Chapter 1: Just a Small Family Gathering
John's new aunt throws a family get-together to give John (and Sherlock) a chance to meet all the cousins. It’s going well enough, if a little dull, until Sherlock gets bored. This is never a good sign.
“Dr. Watson, we’re so glad you could come.” His aunt Marie held the door wide.
“Thank you,” John said. “It’s good of you to have us.” He tried to ignore Sherlock’s eye roll. This was difficult enough. He didn’t need Sherlock’s antisocial tendencies on his conscience just now. “I don’t remember if you met my friend, Sherlock Holmes?”
“Of course, your, er, friend. Do come in. Betty will take your coats.” She waited until the maid had turned away and then took John’s arm, ushering him into the sitting room. The room seemed to be teeming with people, and John paused at the doorway while his aunt laughed merrily. “Now, dear, there’s nothing to worry about. We’re all family, here.”
“That makes it worse,” muttered Sherlock from behind and John looked back over his shoulder with a grin as he was bustled into the room.
He hadn’t wanted to come in the first place, he thought a brief time later as he stood with a drink he didn’t want in his hand. He blamed his mother for insisting that he learn manners in the first place. Given a choice, he would have refused outright to come when the invitation had arrived. After the cold shoulder he’d gotten at Ian’s funeral, he hadn’t expect anything warmer today and he hadn’t been disappointed.
So here he was, cornered by his new aunt and two uncles, all so busy talking they’d forgotten to pepper him with questions. For the moment, anyway. The bombard had been steady for the first half hour. His theory was that they were waiting until he’d had a few drinks before bringing out the heavy guns.
His eyes searched the room, looking for Sherlock. He had been torn about bringing him along. There was no question that he had more experience with wealthy people than John did, but he wasn’t exactly reliable in social situations. Still, John hadn’t wanted to face this alone and so had been convincing. (John promised not to complain about surprises in the refrigerator for a month, and Sherlock was allowed to perform two experiments on John in that time—as long as it didn’t affect John’s ability to function the next day. Frankly, he still regretted this concession. Who knew what Sherlock would come up with?)
Still, Sherlock looked like he was behaving himself. He certainly looked like he fit in, with his tailored suit and aristocratic bearing. His audience didn’t look appalled or horrified, so that looked all right, thought John. No unwelcome deductions … yet, at least.
John blinked and refocused on his Uncle James. “So sorry, I got distracted. What?”
“I asked what you were doing with your time now?”
John frowned. “Much the same as usual. Chasing criminals, writing my blog. Though I have cut back my hours at the surgery, which is something of a relief.”
Aunt Marie asked, “You still … work, then? But, I thought…”
Andrew touched her arm. “Just because you’ve never had to work doesn’t mean some of us don’t enjoy it, dear. Dr. Watson seems like he enjoys feeling useful.”
John gave a brief nod. “I worked hard to get through medical school. Hate to let all that work go to waste. Though I’ll admit treating children for colds isn’t my idea of real medicine, which is why I’m just as glad to be able to cut back my hours. That, and a chance for a full night’s sleep now and again.”
“You have trouble sleeping, dear?”
“Well,” John said, “We keep irregular hours. It’s hard to get up for a 9:00 shift when you’ve only fallen into bed at 3:00.”
“I can imagine,” said Andrew. “I find it hard enough if I’m in bed after 11:00. Though, at least the house is quieter now the girls are out. You don’t have children?”
“No, there was never really an opportunity,” John said.
“Because of your … friend?” Uncle James looked as if someone had held a bucket of fishing bait under his nose.
“What, Sherlock? No,” said John. “I mean, you’d have to be insane to bring a child into our flat, but mostly I meant because I was in Afghanistan for ten years. There just wasn’t time to settle down and have kids.”
He gave another look at Sherlock, casually standing near the fireplace and looking particularly elegant. John’s young nieces? (cousins? first cousins once removed?) were watching from a corner and giggling in high pitched bursts every few minutes. Apparently his new family had given up on trying to talk to Sherlock, and John tried not to feel jealous. He wished these three would get tired of talking to him.
Some of this must have shown on his face, because suddenly one of his cousins was at his arm. “Mummy, cousin John hasn’t had anything to eat since he got here. You know how that scotch sneaks up on people.” Giving a gentle tug, she extricated him from the corner and led him toward the buffet. “You looked trapped, Dr. Watson. Or should I call you John?”
“After that rescue? John, please,” he told her. “You’re my cousin Meredith, yes?”
“Correct. Marie and Andrew’s daughter. It must be terribly confusing.”
“It is a bit overwhelming,” John said. He looked again at his flatmate. “Sherlock seems to be doing all right for himself.”
A small giggle. “Oh, I think he frightened everybody away. He’s so intimidating and sexy.”
John’s eyebrows rose at her choice of adjectives as he looked over the food. “He does have an air about him.”
“It’s the mystery thing. You have it too, you know.”
He dropped the canapé he’d just raised to his mouth. “I do?”
“Absolutely. We’ve heard such incredible things—that you’re a doctor, that you were in the army, and now you spend your time solving crimes? Not to mention the romance.”
“Romance.” It was barely even a question.
“Why, yes, between you and Sherlock.” She seemed surprised.
“We’re not a couple.”
She laughed. “Really? Because he’s barely taken his eyes off you all afternoon. And he did fake his own death to save your life, which is terribly romantic.”
Now John was hoping for a rescue from Meredith. “I’ll have to take your word for it,” he said, trying not to roll his eyes because this topic of conversation never got old. “I seriously doubt that ever crossed his mind. We’re just friends.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that, John.” Sherlock had joined them in that silent, slippery way of his. “I thought we were partners?”
“Well, yeah, for solving crimes, Sherlock, not…” John’s voice faltered. What the hell was Sherlock doing? Then he realized—Sherlock was bored.
This was about to become a bit not good.
He tried not to flinch as Sherlock laid his hand on his arm. “Really, I’m crushed, John. You’re ashamed of me.”
Meredith’s eyes were wide, and John could see the rest of the room, frozen as everyone’s attention was riveted on the three of them. “You’re being silly, Sherlock. This is not the place,” John said, voice low.
Sherlock, on the other hand, was all but projecting his voice to the rafters. Not that this elegant room had rafters, exactly, but the image caught in John’s mind as he tried to figure out how to deal with this. “What? You know how I feel about you, John. I didn’t just say I was willing to die for you—I actually did it. How can you treat me this way?”
John shook his head, madly trying to think, but he already knew he was beaten. There was no way he was going to be able to head this off. “You’re really doing this, aren’t you? It’s like Buckingham Palace all over again.”
“What?” Meredith asked. “You’ve been to Buckingham Palace?”
John nodded. “Yes, and this idiot came dressed in nothing more than a sheet. You’d think a man of his background would have a better sense of decorum, but no.”
“Decorum is for mundane minds, John,” Sherlock said, his voice deep. “Not for us.”
“Us? At least I was dressed, Sherlock!”
“True, but you were amused.”
John snorted and gave a kind of sideways tip-of-the-head nod. “Yeah, well, let’s not have a repeat of that in front of all these nice people, shall we?”
He tried to ignore the way Sherlock’s eyes were boring into him, intent and all-seeing. What on earth was he doing? The entire room was staring unabashedly now, and the air felt thin, as if everyone had stopped breathing. “Good point, John. Being naked is definitely better suited for the privacy of home.” He leaned closer, and now John was having a hard time breathing. “How much longer are we going to be here?”
John just stared, totally thrown off balance. He knew (didn’t he?) that Sherlock was just messing around because he was bored, but still … he was shaken. For a moment, all he could do was blink, dumbfounded, until he caught a glint of humor in Sherlock’s eyes.
He was bloody well going to kill him, he thought, even as he reluctantly broke into a laugh.
“I just can’t take you anywhere, can I? All you had to do was say you were bored, Sherlock.” He eased around his flatmate and walked over to his aunt and uncles, standing dumbstruck in the corner. “I apologize for Sherlock, somehow he deleted the necessity of company manners. I should really take him home before he starts doing something really unspeakable. Thank you so much for inviting us.”
With a nod, he turned and walked back to take Sherlock’s arm, maneuvering him between the statues that were his new family. The maid was already waiting in the hall with their coats and John hurriedly grabbed his and headed for the door, trying to ignore the shocked faces staring their way from the sitting room as he pushed a now-grinning Sherlock out the door.
“You know they’re never going to invite me again, don’t you?”
“All the better. I’ve never met a more boring group of people,” Sherlock said. “Or, well, there’s my family … but, no. They’re insufferable, but they do at least have some conversational abilities.”
John just shook his head. Why had he thought it was a good idea to bring Sherlock, again? He was worse than a child. He glanced back at the house as they walked up the street. He could just see several faces peering out of the window.
He couldn’t help himself. He started to giggle. Sherlock was right. They were boring, and he was as glad to get out of there as his friend. “At least you didn’t bring the harpoon,” he finally said.
“Long arms,” Sherlock said, “I can reach the food on the buffet table without it. You should know that, John.” He raised an arm to hail a cab. “No, if I were going to bring anything, it would have been the skull to keep me company while you were on the other side of the room. It’s got more conversation than any of those silly cousins of yours.”
John bent over again, laughing at the mental image. “I don’t think we’re going to need to worry about seeing any of these people again, Sherlock.”
“Good,” Sherlock said. “Families are boring. Hungry?”
“Considering I didn’t get a chance to eat anything before you pulled that stunt? Starving. Let’s go.”
Chapter 2: Remember, It's for Charity
John goes to a charity fund-raiser and has to put up with his uncle who is still disgruntled about, well, everything to do with John. Not surprisingly, things don't go as smoothly as one would hope--though the tabloids are going to be thrilled.
The next time John saw any of the Littlestons was at the first big fund-raiser for Ian’s charity, “Gratitude from a Stone.” It had been a two months since Ian died and the invitation had been in his pile of mail when he and Sherlock had returned from their holiday.
All things considered, he didn’t think this was a fund-raiser he could legitimately miss, especially considering the only reason the charity existed at all was because of John (and Ian).
He was here alone tonight. Sherlock had been invited, but had just muttered “Dull” and tossed the card aside. Knowing how badly a bored Sherlock behaved, John hadn’t pressed the point, much as he would have liked the company. He thought about asking Sarah. She was a doctor, after all, and most women enjoyed dressing up for these kinds of things, didn’t they? But he thought she might have taken it the wrong way, and so hadn’t asked. Still, it was a charity for wounded veterans, and he was not only a doctor and a soldier, but a wounded veteran himself. He was sure he’d find somebody to talk to.
He wandered into the room and looked for the bar. Any event like this would be better with a little social lubricant. He tried not to tug at his suit. Sherlock had practically dressed him for the evening. He had all but buttoned the shirt for him, he’d been so insistent that John dress properly for the occasion. John smiled at the memory. Despite being determined to avoid non-essential data, Sherlock was an expert in clothing and all the societal permutations of a person’s wardrobe. When he had handed him the suit and laid out the shirt and tie for him, John knew he’d have no choice about what to wear. He wouldn’t get out of the flat in anything else.
He had resisted wearing his uniform, though, or any of his medals. So far as John was concerned, tonight wasn’t about him. He was here to support Ian, the charity, and above all his wounded brothers-in-arms. He hoped not to draw any more attention to himself than he had to.
Circling the room with his glass, he spotted Tobias Leonard, Chairman of LSE. He had met him at Ian’s funeral and so headed over to say hello.
“Dr. Watson, hello! How are you? Having a good time?”
John smiled. “It seems quite a nice affair, though it’s not really my thing. I felt I owed it to Ian to come out, though—and, well, it’s thanks to him I can afford to come, anyway.”
“He’d be delighted. You’ve nothing to worry about, though. You’re not the only military man standing about looking uncomfortable. Come, let me introduce you around.”
Great, thought John as he followed him. No doubt they all out-rank me as well as being able to out-spend me. Still, he was here to be polite, not to have fun. After years with Sherlock Holmes, he could keep his countenance in almost any situation.
To his surprise, though, the evening wasn’t as dull as he’d feared. He might not be the wealthiest person in the room (though there were still some people under the impression he was), but there were some people willing to talk about medical services needed for soldiers and veterans, and this was a topic John knew well. He found he had a unique perspective as both a surgeon and a soldier—not to mention one who’d been invalided home after being shot. That, plus his unusually high profile in the press and the cachet of being Ian Littleston’s son, meant that—here at least—his opinions were taken seriously by some very serious people.
All in all, the evening was going remarkably well.
Someone tapped on John’s shoulder. He turned, interrupting a conversation with his old therapist of all people, and then felt even sorrier when he saw his Uncle James.
“Don’t let me interrupt,” his uncle said with a fake smile. “I just wanted to be sure you weren’t feeling adrift, since I don’t imagine this is your usual kind of event. I was concerned when I saw you arrive by yourself, but I suppose the spots are rather dear.”
John just blinked, letting nothing show on his face, though he licked his lips as he responded, “That’s kind of you. I did pay for two, but Sherlock decided not to come. It’s all for the best, really, since that would rather be like bringing a child along. He’d be bored silly inside ten minutes.”
“And we all know what happens then, don’t we?” his uncle asked with a snide smile. “We wouldn’t want any inappropriate … behavior … here, would we? I mean, it’s just as well your … flatmate isn’t here, don’t you think?”
“I think he would be pleased to see everything going so well,” said John calmly, looking past him. “Ah, Mycroft. It’s good to see you. Do you know James Littleston? My new uncle, apparently. James, this is Mycroft Holmes.”
Watching them shake hands, John felt a quiver in his stomach. Not nervousness, exactly, but an anticipation that something was about to happen. The worst part was that he had no desire to try to head it off, but rather an eagerness to sit back and watch. He wasn’t surprised to bump into Mycroft there. This sort of event seemed like his proper place in the world—when he wasn’t twisting diplomat’s arms in boardrooms, or scanning CCTV footage. High-class charity events were the kind of thing he seemed born for, but still, John hadn’t expected to see him. He said as much and Mycroft replied, “Naturally, I took an interest, John. Ian would be proud, don’t you think?”
John nodded. “Yes, I think he would. It seems an excellent turn-out.”
Mycroft said, “I meant, proud of you, John. He did all of this for you, after all.”
“That’s not what matters, though,” John said with a typically English sidestep to the compliment. “We’re here for the soldiers.”
“Of course.” Mycroft gestured to the men standing behind him. “General Robert Anderson and Dr. Anna Sulieman. May I introduce Dr. John Watson, former captain of the RAMC, and Ian Littleston’s son. Also his uncle, James Littleston.”
“Ah, the reason we’re here tonight. It’s a pleasure,” said Dr. Sulieman. “We were just discussing ways to make triage in the field more efficient. I’d imagine you have opinions on that, Dr. Watson, with your field experience? I so seldom get to talk with doctors who actively worked in the field, most of my experience has been in hospitals here at home.”
Before John could answer, his uncle said, “I forget that Dr. Watson was in the war. I’ve only known him a short while, you see. Only since my brother died and I learned he’d had a son he’d kept secret for all those years.” He gave a tight laugh.
John was actually amused. It seemed hard to believe that this man had been Ian’s brother. “It’s true, we haven’t had much time to get to know each other. I’m still getting used to having a whole new family.”
General Anderson grimaced. “As if one family weren’t bad enough,” he said sympathetically, then nodded at James. “But there are worse families, of course.”
“Of course. You can’t pick your family you’re born into, though thankfully you can build one of your own,” John agreed, ignoring the sideways look from his uncle who seemed under the impression that John wanted to be part of his boring, close-minded family.
John glanced at Mycroft, who was studying James as if he were a new, particularly ugly insect that had just crawled from beneath a rock, but James was smiling at the General and completely missed it. Then Mycroft caught John’s eye and seemed surprised to see him enjoying himself. John wasn’t bothered at all by James’ insinuations. He honestly didn’t care what the Littleston family at large thought of him.
They fell into a conversation about the kinds of treatment soldiers needed, both in the field but also once they returned. The conversation was so engrossing, it was easy to ignore James’ fidgets. He kept staring at John in disbelief, as if a dog he didn’t particularly like had started discussing the plot twists in the latest film.
Seriously, John was starting to enjoy this, so when another person tapped his shoulder, he turned with a smile which grew even broader. “Colonel Brady! What are you doing here?” he asked, delighted.
“It’s a fund-raiser, Captain, I thought you knew.” The Colonel grinned as he nodded at the rest of the group. “I haven’t seen you since we shipped you back home, Watson. How’s the shoulder?”
John shrugged. “I know when a storm is coming, but otherwise, not bad. How long have you been back?”
“About a year. Getting used to sitting at a desk.”
“It’s not nearly as exciting as dodging bullets,” John agreed, “But still, it’s necessary.”
The older man sighed in agreement and John remembered his manners and introduced the rest of the group. “So you all know Captain Watson, then? One of the bravest men I’ve had the pleasure to serve with. It was a sad day when we lost him.”
“Well, you didn’t lose me,” John said. “Quite the contrary.”
The Colonel snorted. “We saved your life, but lost you your profession, lad. I always regretted that.” He looked at the others. “Watson, here, was one of our best surgeons, but he took a bullet in the shoulder which caused just enough nerve damage to kill his career. Bad enough, but worse when he was one of ours and should never have been hit in the first place.”
“Really?” asked Dr. Sulieman. “What happened?”
“There was a firefight which he should not have been near.” He gave John a mock-stern glare, which John just waved off with a smile. “But he was, because while he’s an idiot, but he’s a brave idiot, so he managed to save, what, three lives?, before getting himself shot. And even after that, he managed to save one more while bleeding out. Luckily, one of the medics got him bandaged up enough to make it back to base. Damn close thing, though.”
They were all staring at John now, in varying degrees of respect. He wished they’d look away, though. He’d only been doing his duty, after all, and still felt guilty about not being able to save that corporal’s leg because he couldn’t get his left arm to work properly. The fact that he saved his life didn’t seem to matter, he should have saved the leg, too, and that failure still rankled. He gave a little smile and waved his hand, searching for a way to change the subject. “Just doing my job, and that was a long time ago, Colonel, it’s not why we’re here tonight,” he finally managed.
Mycroft said, “Indirectly, it is, John. We’re here to raise money for wounded veterans, after all.”
“I’ve got all I need, Mycroft, but thank you,” John told him.
“That’s true. He’s got more than enough money.” His uncle’s face had twisted into a grimace as not only had John become the center of attention, but one that was being lauded.
The others looked at him in surprise. “What are you saying, Mr. Littleston? It’s thanks to Doctor … Captain Watson, here, that this charity exists at all.”
“I beg to differ, Dr. Sulieman, but it’s thank to my brother, who was far too generous with his money. Not that I object to it going to such a good cause, of course.”
“But you object to any of it going to his son?” The Colonel’s voice was disbelieving.
James took another sip of his drink. “Well, if you want to talk about his son, let’s not forget that he is still in prison, trying to get a decent lawyer because his father didn’t provide him with his fair share.”
John was stunned. Was this man seriously standing here defending his criminal nephew? In front of him and Mycroft? After he’d kidnapped both their siblings? They were all staring at him now and James looked around suddenly, as if realizing he’d said something he shouldn’t. “I, that is, I just mean that the legal system costs money, and, I mean, poor Andy is stuck in jail …”
“For kidnapping my sister, Mycroft’s brother, and threatening my life? Yes, he is.” John said as calmly as possible, trying to ignore the appalled look on the others’ faces.
James swallowed. “Mycroft’s brother?”
“Yes, Mycroft Holmes,” Mycroft said, leaning forward. “I think you’ll find that your ‘poor’ nephew is exactly where he deserves to be, with his murderous tendencies. Although, naturally, that’s up to a jury of his peers to decide. Unlike you, I have admirable faith in the legal system. Excuse me.” He turned and walked away, and after a moment, the General and doctor followed, after polite good-byes to John and the Colonel.
Then it was just the three of them, and John was eyeing the Colonel warily. He knew the look in his eye. He was fuming and likely to explode. To be honest, John was tempted to let him, but that wouldn’t be fair. They were here to raise money for Ian’s charity, after all. Letting a brawl break out in the middle of the room would scare away the donors.
So, he just looked at his uncle calmly and then wished him a good night before turning away … but it was too late. “What kind of idiot are you?” The Colonel’s voice was too loud and easily overrode all the polite chit-chat going on around the room. John spun back around as everyone turned to look at the source of the noise, but it was already too late to head him off. Brady had a good head of steam already and was anxious to let it out.
“Do you seriously want to stand here and imply that this charity and the men and women it’s here to help is a waste of your brother’s money?” The Colonel was clearly enjoying himself, his voice carrying to all corners of the now silent room. “First, of course, it’s my understanding that it was his money, and therefore his to do what he liked with it, isn’t that true?”
James was pale as he stammered out an agreement. “Yes, yes, of course, it was his money. I only meant, that is, he was going to leave it to the family …”
“Like your nephew? The one who took matters into his own hands and kidnapped two people to try to blackmail this man into giving up his own share of the inheritance?”
“That’s not what happened! I mean, he hasn’t even had a trial yet! For all I know, the evidence was completely made up. I certainly never heard of John Watson before my brother died. How do I know he didn’t trick him? He showed up at his deathbed and changed everything!”
John couldn’t help it. He stepped forward and casually put a hand on the Colonel’s arm as he said, “I showed up because your precious nephew forced me to by kidnapping my sister and my best friend. I was there, James. I saw him. And I’ve already told you, I talked Ian OUT of giving me his money. I didn’t want it. I still don’t. That’s why this charity, and Geoffrey’s Gathers Moss even exist. It was Ian’s choice to give his money to charities rather than to the rest of the family.”
Now James was flushed red with rage. “No! I don’t believe that! You tricked him! If you’d cared, you would have been there Ian was alive, like the rest of us. But where were you? Nowhere”
Colonel Brady shook of John’s hand and stepped forward, staring down at the enraged man. “Where was he? In Afghanistan, saving lives and getting shot to keep berks like you SAFE. Then he comes back and puts his skills to putting away criminals and turns down a multi-million pound inheritance and convinces his father to give it to charity instead, and you’re accusing him of being GREEDY?”
James opened his mouth, ready to respond, ready to burst with words, but instead, he suddenly stopped, a look of shock on his face, and dropped to the ground. Oh god, thought John, as he jumped forward, trying to catch his head before it hit the floor.
The Colonel was right next to him, checking for a pulse as John peered into his eyes. “Heart attack?”
“Yes, I think so. You,” he said, pointing to a bystander, “Call 999. Shit. He’s not breathing.” He started chest compressions and asked the room at large, “Does this place have a defibrillator?”
“They’re checking, John,” he heard Mycroft say. “And the ambulance is on its way.”
John just nodded, counting, as he continued to work on his uncle. After a few minutes, he swapped with the Colonel and looked around, catching his breath, just as someone arrived with a defibrillator. “Great,” he said, turning it on. “Okay, Colonel. Clear.”
The bystanders held their breath as James’ body jumped at the shock, but his heart still wasn’t beating. Another shock. Then another … and, with relief, John felt a pulse, just as the paramedics arrived. He helped them get James on the gurney, running off the things they needed to know before watching them wheel him away. They’d gotten the heart beating again, that was a good sign, but he wondered if he should have gone with them.
He felt a hand on his shoulder. “Good work, Captain,” the Colonel said, then he turned and announced. “That was Captain Doctor John Watson, everyone. An example of our fine military medical corps, and the reason we’re all here tonight. I don’t think he planned on putting on a show, but I think he did a fine job, don’t you?”
John favored his friend with a glare as the onlookers burst into applause. “It was nothing, really,” he protested. “I’m a doctor, this is what we do” But for the next while, he was surrounded by well-wishers, congratulating him, gushing that they’d never seen someone save a life before. He tried to be as polite as he could, but the attention made him uncomfortable. They were here to raise money for the charity, to talk about wounded veterans, not … him.
At one point, he managed to get a moment alone to call his aunt and pass on the news about James’ heart attack. When he finished, Tobias was standing nearby, with another man he introduced as Bill Gregory, the head of the charity. “I am so sorry,” John told him. “I didn’t mean to make a scene…”
“Are you kidding?” Gregory asked as a smile spread across his face. “That was amazing. Watching you and that other fellow jump in to save that man’s life—in the middle of an argument, nonetheless? Short of actual gunfire, it’s as close as any of these people will ever come to seeing the military’s medical teams at work. It was amazing, impressive—and just the shot in the arm we needed. Do you know how many donations we’ve gotten in the last half hour? We’ll be the talk of the fundraising scene for weeks—people will expect something this exciting every time!”
John laughed a little. “Let’s not get carried away. I don’t carry a full kit in my pockets. I’m just glad you’re not upset at the chaos.”
“Quite the contrary, Dr. Watson. You should do this every year.”
John laughed uneasily, not entirely sure the man was joking.
Sherlock was in his room when he got home later, and John was just as glad. It had been a full night and he really wanted nothing more than to go to bed without having the entire evening deduced by his flatmate.
The next morning, he stumbled down the stairs, yawning and thinking yearningly of tea, and found Sherlock standing in the middle of the sitting room, hands on his hips. “I let you out of my sight, and this is what happens?”
“What? What are you talking about?”
Sherlock held out the newspaper. “Oh, Christ,” said John. “There are pictures?”
Under a banner headline “Millionaire Hero Saves Life at Charity Gala” was a picture of John kneeling over his uncle, performing CPR. He started to skim the article, but decided it was too early to stomach the purple prose singing his praises. Not before breakfast, at least.
“I should probably call the hospital and see how he’s doing,” he said as he headed toward the kitchen, then stopped in surprise.
“If I’d known you were going to provide entertainment, John,” Sherlock said, handing him a cup of tea and turning to the toaster, “I would have come after all. These things are usually so boring. A little life-and-death suspense is just what they need.”
John just stood there, shocked. Sherlock had made him tea? And he wasn’t even sick?
“Sit down, John. Your breakfast is getting cold.”
I'm not perfectly happy with this chapter, but decided to share it anyway. Please don't forget that I know nothing about medicine other than what I see on television--not exactly the best place to draw medical knowledge--so be forgiving.
Chapter 3: Last Wishes
The first time John met his brothers, none of them realized. John just knew that, as a doctor, it was his job to stay detached.
The first time John met his brothers, none of them realized.
It was just before he joined the army. He was working in the A&E, honing his medical skills and learning how well he worked under pressure. (It turned out, he worked very well under pressure, which ended up being one of the deciding factors for his joining the army.)
It was near the end of his shift, when the doors opened with casualties from a car accident, a family. The mother was seriously hurt, and immediately swarmed over by a team of doctors. She was followed by two boys in their teens, obviously brothers, obviously her sons. One was busy on his phone while the younger one sank down in a chair and rubbed his head. John went over to him. “Are you hurt? Did you hit your head?”
“What? No! Just sod off, will you? I’m fine.”
John blinked at the angry, petulant tone and glanced at the teenager’s brother, who just nodded with an eye roll as if to say, “He’s always like that” as he continued to talk to his father.
“Okay, how about you?” John asked. “You’ve got blood on your sleeve. Is that yours?”
“What?” He looked blankly at his sleeve, and John stepped forward, carefully pushing the fabric out of the way to show a slash the length of the arm.
“Tsk. I can’t believe you can’t feel that.” He led the young man, still on his mobile, to an empty cubicle. “Take off the jacket.”
When he fumbled, juggling with the phone, John took it and spoke into it, “Hello? Are you …” he looked at his patient, waiting for his name, then continued, “Geoffrey’s father? I’m going to need to stitch up a cut in your son’s arm, so he’ll be out of touch for a bit.”
“He told me he wasn’t hurt,” the man’s voice was strained, and John could hear traffic in the background.
“It’s just a cut on his arm, he hadn’t even noticed. Nothing to worry about,” John told him. “Your other son seems fine, but we’ll be checking him out to be sure.”
“And my wife?”
John glanced to the other side of the room at the team so frantically working. “I don’t know her condition, but we’re doing everything we can. You’re on your way here, yes?”
“Yes. I should be there in about fifteen minutes.” John could hear the tires whishing on the wet street through the phone.
“Okay, drive carefully. Everything’s being taken care of. You need to get here in one piece,” John told the man. “Now, I need to take care of your son’s arm. Don’t worry.”
He disconnected and handed the phone back to his patient. “You, too. Don’t worry.” He reached for the supplies. “Can you move your hand? It doesn’t look like anything worse than a cut. A few stitches, and you’ll be fine. You’re sure you’re not hurt anywhere else?”
Geoffrey shook his head, expression blank. “My Mum … is she all right?”
John looked across the room again, noting the more frantic activity. “I don’t know. We’re doing everything we can. I’m just going to numb this, before I do the stitches, all right?” He spared another glance at the younger brother, hunched over on his chair, fending off any approach from the staff. “You’re sure your brother isn’t hurt?”
“No, he’s okay. He was in the back …” Geoffrey’s voice trailed off and his eyes blurred as he remembered the accident.
“Your mother was driving?”
He shook his head. “I was.” His voice was hollow, pain echoing from the depths. “The car came out of nowhere, just rammed right through a red light and hit … hit right where she was sitting. There was nothing I could do, but … I should have …”
“It’s okay,” John told him, glancing up from his careful stitches as he heard someone clear his throat.. “It wasn’t your fault. Okay, we’re done here, and I see the detective wants to talk to you. You’ll want to keep the bandage clean and dry, right? Change it at least once a day, come back in a week to get the stitches out.”
He stood and nodded to the officer, waiting nearby. “His father’s on the way here, and his brother is over there, waiting.” They both glanced toward the team working over the boy’s mother—the pace was much slower now—but the detective just nodded and put a hand on Geoffrey’s shoulder and led him away.
John swallowed. The boys—men—not that much younger than he was, were too young to lose their mother. And the guilt.... Even if the accident wasn’t his fault, would Geoffrey ever forgive himself? He took the paperwork over to the nurse’s station, trying to count his blessings, grateful it was the end of his shift.
From the corner of his eye, he saw the father arrive, frantic as he rushed through the doors and hurried to his sons. He watched the strong hug (shrugged off by the younger boy who nevertheless sat close). He watched as the man received the news about his wife (now still and unmoving on the gurney) as he clutched Geoffrey to him. He saw the exact moment that Geoffrey tried to take the blame and felt his heart clench as the man went pulled him close to reassure him.
He was still new to this doctor thing, John thought, not used to watching families (other than his own) fall apart. He was already learning how to shield himself from the pain around him, but it wasn’t easy. Of course, it didn’t help that his own mother had passed so recently, and that those boys weren’t really all that much younger than he was. Their father looked capable and caring, though, as he sat in the hard, plastic chair, arms around each son, cradling his son’s head on his shoulder with no concern for his expensive suit.
Like a father should, thought John, feeling the usual bite of bitterness at the thought of his own father.
Checking the clock, he stifled a yawn. He’d been on for over 18 hours and needed to get some sleep. He handed over his paperwork to the nurse and said goodnight, and started to walk away. Oh. He’d almost forgot. He’d been distracted by the detective and he was just too tired. He turned back to the desk and rummaged for the file and pulled out a piece of paper.
He walked over to the grieving family, and smiled apologetically in what he hoped was a professional manner. “I’m so sorry, I don’t want to interrupt, just … Geoffrey, here’s your prescription, just a basic antibiotic to prevent infection. It was a fairly deep cut, but clean. Like I said before, it will be fine in a few days, just keep it dry and clean. The stitches can come out in a week.”
The boy (man?) looked up blankly, not really seeing him. His father gathered himself and took the paper, tucking it into a pocket. “Thank you, doctor--?”
“Watson,” said John. “I’m very sorry for your loss.”
He gave a sympathetic smile as the man looked up, eyes suddenly focused, staring at him with the shock obvious, poor man. John hesitated, torn between his exhaustion and the need to help—not that there was anything he could do. He knew that. He couldn’t allow himself to get involved. He had to stay professional.
He gave Geoffrey another smile, his (very unprofessional) sympathy welling at his eyes. “It’ll be okay. It wasn’t your fault.”
The father was staring at him and he blushed a little. “I’m sorry. I just … I lost my own mother not long ago, and I … ” He swallowed, feeling like an idiot. Who was he to give the man’s son advice? The man must think he was a fool. John summoned up his professional demeanor and offered another nod. “I really am very sorry.”
He turned away and headed for the lifts, trying not to think of the broken family behind him. Trying not to think of his own family, broken years ago, but completely shattered when his mother died earlier this year. He had to shake this off, damn it. If he was going to be a doctor, this wouldn’t be the last family he would see shattered. He couldn’t let his sympathy override his professional instincts.
He never noticed the longing look the grieving father gave him as he walked away.
Chapter 4: Some Friends
John's niece shows up at Baker Street in need of some help.
“John, the doorbell.”
“Aren’t you going to get it?”
“I’m a little busy here, Sherlock, cleaning up YOUR mess. Don’t you think you could manage, just this once?”
He tried not to roll his eyes as Sherlock gave a little huff. The (impossible, irritating) man had just barely begun to move his feet to shift himself up out of the chair when Mrs. Hudson tapped on the door. “Woohoo. Didn’t you hear the bell? You’ve got a visitor.”
“Well, you’re too young to have an interesting case,” he heard Sherlock say. “What do you want?”
On his knees in the kitchen, struggling to clean up the mess Sherlock had dropped earlier (severed thumbs, bread pudding and sulfur—he didn’t want to know), John sighed. Sherlock should really wear a warning sign around his neck, letting strangers know he was lacking the tact gene. He looked at the dust pan and tried to decide whether he was better off here with this disgusting mess, or in the sitting room running interference for his flatmate.
He was completely surprised when he heard their visitor say, “Actually, I’m here to see John Watson. Is he here?”
Pan in hand, he leaned out of the kitchen. “Me?”
He blinked. So far as he knew, Harry didn’t have any children, certainly not a teenaged girl. He was really quite certain he would have remembered that. “Er…”
“Holly. Holly Marvingham? I know, we only met that one time, and you’re not really an uncle. It’s something like first cousin once removed, isn’t it? Since Ian Littleston was my great-uncle? I always get these things mixed up. But anyway, it seems wrong to just call you John.” She was advancing for a handshake, but stopped when she saw the dustpan, a look of disgust playing across her face.
“Oh. Oh, right,” said John. “Let me just…” He turned back to the kitchen to dump the pan. He did vaguely remember a cluster of teenagers at that miserable gathering at his uncle’s house months before, but couldn’t honestly remember any of them. He certainly hadn’t expected any of them to be dropping in for visits, that was sure. Sighing, he washed his hands and then went back to the sitting room, pulling the sliding door behind him to spare the girl the sight of the mess.
She and Sherlock were staring at each other, and John could only be relieved that Sherlock hadn’t been unpardonably rude. Though, with John’s experience with teenagers, they could probably give Sherlock a run for his money so far as ‘rude’ went.
John walked over to the them, trying to judge the mood. She didn’t seem distraught, which was a plus, he supposed. “So, to what do we owe the pleasure, Holly?”
She tilted her head and grimaced. “It’s kind of embarrassing. I came into the city for the day with two of my friends, and we got separated. Which wouldn’t have been a big deal, except I lost my purse, I think, and so I don’t have my phone or my train ticket home and no money to buy a new one—a ticket, I mean—and I couldn’t think of anybody else I knew who lived in London whose address I could actually remember, but yours is kind of famous, and so I thought I would come ask you for help. Which, I know, is totally inconvenient and I barely know you and, well, like I said, it’s kind of embarrassing. But … will you?”
John blinked. He’d forgotten how teenaged girls talk at one (high) speed. He’d always wondered how Harry and her friends had managed to breathe, they chattered so constantly at each other when they were that age..
Still, when he glanced at the glazed look in Sherlock’s eyes, he realized he was coping better than his flatmate—a rare pleasure. He was just starting to say that of course he would help when Sherlock spoke up. “What do you mean, you think you lost your purse?”
She made a face. “Well, it’s gone, isn’t it? I had it on the train when we came in, and I had it at lunch, and definitely still when we got on the Tube, because I remember digging to find exact change. But somehow we got separated. We had all agreed that we were going to Piccadilly, but … I don’t know how it happened. I mean, we were all standing together, but it was crowded. It was almost a relief to get out at the station, because we were packed so tightly. But … they weren’t there.” She stopped, expression bereft. “I don’t know what happened.”
Sherlock was watching her with that analytical look on his face that showed he considered her a puzzle, but which didn’t exactly help anything. John took her shoulders and moved her to his chair. “Sit down. I’ll make you some tea. In the meantime, here’s my phone. Send your friends a text to let them know you’re okay.”
She nodded, looking calmer and John turned toward the kitchen.
“Is that when you lost your purse?”
Holly looked up. “Somewhere along there, yeah. By the time I realized my friends weren’t with me and that I was alone in Piccadilly Circus. It was a few minutes before I realized my bag was gone, too. I don’t think I left it on the train, but I don’t know for sure. And it was so crowded.”
“So you don’t know if it was lost or if it was stolen.” To John’s surprise, Sherlock actually sounded moderately intrigued. “Have you sent that text yet?”
“What? Oh, no.” She turned back to the phone but paused when he told her to wait.
“How well do you know these friends?”
She looked confused. “Well, they’re … friends. We hang out all the time.”
“Do you think they might have ditched you on purpose?” Sherlock asked, tapping at his phone.
“No, they wouldn’t! How can you ask that?”
“Because I find it suspicious that your purse went missing at the same time you were separated from your friends. Not to mention that they conveniently forgot which station you were going to, also at the same time.”
John’s eyes narrowed as he saw Holly thinking about this, her automatic protest stilling on her lips. “But … why would they do that?”
“Because they’re teenagers, and teenagers are often cruel and enjoy hazing each other,” Sherlock told her. “How long have you been friends?”
“A … a couple months,” she said. “But they’re my friends.”
“In my experience, school ‘friends’ are often anything but,” said Sherlock as John walked back in with the tea. “Let’s see if they respond to a text sent to your phone from an unfamiliar number. Give me your number.”
“Sherlock,” John said, “What are you sending.”
“Just a little query,” Sherlock told him with a smile. He held up his phone so they could both see the text he’d sent.
“—Have you given your friends the slip yet? Waiting anxiously.”
“If your friends are playing games and they see that message, they won’t be able to resist answering,” he told her. “If your phone is lost or stolen, it will just be ignored.”
John just shook his head and reached over to pour the tea. “Well, someone is playing games, at any rate.”
Sherlock’s phone chimed and they all looked as Sherlock read the message with a smirk. “It says ‘Forgot address. Where are you again?’ I think that answers that question, don’t you?”
Holly was indignant. “Those bitches! I can’t believe they would do that! I’m never going to talk to them again.”
Sherlock just looked at her with his usual look of disappointment at normal human beings. “You could do that. You could accept John’s train fare home and go to school on Monday as if nothing happened and just not talk to them again. Or,” he leaned forward, a twinkle in his eye that John just knew meant trouble, “You could teach them a lesson.”
Holly bounced forward to the edge of her chair and John just shut his eyes as she asked, “What do you have in mind?”
Sherlock just smiled as he sent back his message. “Selfridges cafe, in an hour.”
Forty-five minutes later, the three of them were at Selfridges. Sherlock and Holly were sitting at a table in the café while John stood near the door, watching for her friends. Sherlock had wanted to be the lookout (“You have so much more experience with dates, John.”) but they pointed out that John and Holly looked too much alike, and that Sherlock was closer to her age. Her so-called friends might not believe it was a date for long, but they didn’t have to.
A few minutes before the hour, two teenagers slid into the store. They were clearly trying to be stealthy, but they were giggling so hard, they were hard to miss. John sent a quick text as he watched them—yes, one of them was carrying two purses. At least they hadn’t tossed Holly’s bag.
He circled around, keeping an eye on them as they crept (loudly) toward the café, and practically erupted into squeals when they saw Holly with Sherlock.
John wasn’t sure what he expected them to do. Take pictures on their phones, perhaps, or to whisper to each other without letting Holly see them. They’d taken fairly elaborate steps, after all, to shake her. So he was completely surprised when they burst from their cover and dashed to the table. “Holly! We’ve been looking everywhere for you! Who’s your friend?”
Holly looked up indignantly. “What do you mean?” she started, but Sherlock cut her off.
“Why, Holly,” he said smoothly. “You didn’t tell me you were bringing friends. How lovely. The more the merrier.”
Holly’s friends were speechless. From what John could see, they’d expected something—someone—different. He just hoped Sherlock wasn’t about to get arrested for inappropriate behavior toward minors. In fact … he looked around. Yes, there was a security guard in the corner, keeping an eye on things and starting to look a little suspicious.
“Becky, Emma, how did you find me?” she asked.
The girls glanced at each other, then the taller one said, “We were so worried, Holly! We got separated on the train somehow, and then we found your purse … we had no idea how we were going to find you! But then, um …”
Her friend took it up there. “Luckily, your friend sent you a text to see where you were, you sly thing. You didn’t tell us you were going to meet someone! Especially someone like this.I didn’t know you had it in you.” She all but licked her lips, looking at Sherlock.
“What do you mean, Emma?” Holly asked, eyes narrowed.
“Well, really, Holly, I thought we were going to spend the day together. It wasn’t very nice of you to make other plans without telling us. It’s really quite rude of you.”
“Yes, but if you introduce us, we might forgive you. I’m Becky,” she said, holding her hand out to Sherlock.
He shook it calmly and smiled one of those slow, easy smiles that John knew were utterly false yet utterly resistible to every woman (and some men) who crossed Sherlock’s path. The girls pulled up extra chairs and sat down, still eyeing Sherlock and Holly with wide-eyed speculation.
“You’re just dreamy,” Becky said, sitting down. “How on earth did you meet Holly?” Her tone implied that his taste was appalling—but the way she was watching him said that she’d forgive his poor taste.
“It’s funny you should ask,” Sherlock told her, a look of confusion on his face. “I was frankly wondering the same thing. You three are supposed to be spending the day together? Yet, here was Holly all alone.”
“Well, sure, we got separated. I’m still wondering when she made plans to meet you.”
“Separated, right.” Sherlock leaned back suddenly, steepling his fingers. “Except that’s not really what happened, is it? How else did you end up with her purse? You claim she left it on the train, yet in my experience, girls don’t let their bags out of their sight. And if you were all heading to the same destination, how did you not get off at the same station? Being separated in the crowd wouldn’t have affected your brain cells, would it?”
John leaned forward, listening intently as Sherlock made his case. He always loved this part—the sheepish looks on the guilty faces, the delight burning on Sherlock’s. He was smiling already.
He was absolutely not expecting a heavy hand falling on his shoulder.
“Excuse me, sir?” A husky voice sounded behind his ear. “Aren’t you a little old to be watching teenaged girls?”
“What? No, that’s not … you don’t understand.” John said, protesting.
“Really? That gent with them looks rather old for them, as well. Do you know him?”
“Well, yes, I do …” John was getting flustered and glancing desperately toward Sherlock. “This isn’t what it looks like.”
The guard turned him around so that John was staring into his chest. Christ, he hadn’t realized the man was so big. “That girl over there,” he said, suddenly frantic to explain and to explain quickly before this escalated, “Is my niece. The other two girls are supposed to be her friends. They came into the city together, but they ditched her and left her in Piccadilly without her phone, her purse, or her money. Good friends, right? She didn’t know what to do, so she came to me for train fare home.”
He leaned over to look around the guard and caught Sherlock’s eyes on him. Great. He wasn’t going to live this down. “The three of us are just trying to turn the tables on them for the prank they pulled. Because, what kind of friends do that?”
He gave the guard as innocent and indignant-on-his-niece’s-behalf look as he could manage.
“Your niece.” The guard was skeptical. (Well, who could blame him, John admitted to himself. He knew exactly how bad this looked.)
“Yes, Holly Marvingham. Well, technically, she’s a cousin. Her mother is my first cousin, but you know how it is between generations, it’s just easier to use uncle and niece, but yes. She’s family.” John hated when he babbled.
“Do you have some identification?”
John sighed. This wasn’t going well, and worse, he was missing Sherlock’s cut-down of those two obnoxious girls. He had been looking forward to that for the last hour. He pulled out his wallet with another glance at the table, trying to ignore the gleam of humor in Sherlock’s eye.. “My name’s John Watson,” he said, and then grimaced when the man’s eyes lit up.
He sighed again. “Not really a millionaire, but … yes.”
The guard was eyeing Sherlock now. “And is that…?”
“Sherlock Holmes. Yes.”
The man’s face was practically gleeful now as he handed John back his wallet. “Which of those girls is your niece?”
“The one with blond hair sitting across from Sherlock.”
“Right. Come with me.” He took John’s arm and dragged him over to the table, while John tried to figure out what had just gone wrong.
“Really, John, you’re lucky that security guard was bullied as a child. What were you thinking?”
John just collapsed in his chair and laughed, still amazed that they’d pulled it off. “It’s not like there was a lot of cover there, Sherlock, and, really, it’s good they’re keeping an eye out for perverts.” He ran his hand over his face. “That would have been a little embarrassing, wouldn’t it?”
“You being arrested for stalking underage girls? Yes.” Sherlock said with a smirk.
“Not just me, Sherlock. He was suspicious of you as well.”
“Ah, but I’m much better at stealth than you are and faster on my feet. I would have been gone before he ever got to the table.”
“Leaving me holding the bag for an ASBO again, no doubt.” John heaved himself back out of the chair and headed for the kitchen, switching on the kettle as he reached for the mugs. “Still, all’s well that ends well. Holly’s safely on the way home and her parents need never know about any of this.”
“And her so-called friends won’t be playing that trick again,” Sherlock said. He grimaced and added, “Though I fear for the future of our civilization—such as it is—if the younger generation are all that stupid.”
“What? Because they believed the security guard could put a warning in their police record?”
“A record which doesn’t exist,” Sherlock reminded him.
“But they don’t know that,” John called back from the kitchen.
“Well, at least they were bright enough to be impressed by you, Sherlock.” John handed him his tea and sat back in his own chair with relief. “If the security guard’s uniform hadn’t frightened them, your deductive skills certainly did. How did you know about that girl’s father, anyway?”
“Basic observation, John. It was obvious by the way she clutched her bag and the way her nails were trimmed.” Sherlock sipped his tea. “Either way, though, they won’t be messing with your niece again.”
“Whatever.” Sherlock waved off the correction. “It’s not like you’re likely to see her again.”
John made a face. “You know, we keep saying that, yet the Littlestons keep showing up.”
“Like bad pennies.”
“Yes,” John agreed. “And there seem to be a lot of them.”
Just then, his mobile beeped. A new text message had arrived.
--Uncle John, thank you again for your help today. They were afraid to talk to me the whole ride home. I can’t wait for school on Monday! Tell Sherlock he’s awesome and I can’t wait to see you both again!
He glanced up to find Sherlock’s eyes on him. “Anything interesting?”
John shoved the phone back in his pocket. “Oh no, nothing at all.”
Chapter 5: Anonymous Donation
After their mother's death, John and Harry get a surprising letter.
John was sorting through the pile of mail, mostly condolences for his mother’s death. Harry was stretched out on the couch, a glass of gin nearby. He had hoped she would actually help, but John was determined to get this done. They’d put it off for far too long, and with the hours he was putting in at the hospital, he needed this off his plate.
Not that his mother had had a lot of friends. Most people had liked her, and she had had some good friends over the years, but she had dropped out of touch with most of them during her illness. John had just been relieved that the funeral had been small. He didn’t think he would have had the stamina needed for a large one. He was only grateful that her long bout with cancer had given him time to prepare for losing her—as much as one can ever prepare for losing one’s mother. He remembered how numb from shock he’d been when his father had been killed by that car, and they hadn’t been that close. He was just grateful he’d had a chance to say goodbye to his mother.
But still, his internship was brutal (challenging, exhausting, exhilarating) and he didn’t exactly have time to deal with extra work, like settling her estate. He gave Harry a dirty look as she lounged on the couch. She was the eldest, shouldn’t she be the one saddled with this chore? But then, his mother had always been a wise woman, never blind to her family’s faults. She knew he was reliable, and knew that Harry wasn’t, so the task was up to him.
He picked up the next envelope and slit it open. It looked official, and the heavy paper felt good in his hands, solid, textured, unlike the generic envelopes of the rest of the pile. The British Association for Cancer Research?
He removed the letter and unfolded it and then just sat and stared.
Attracted by the sudden silence, Harry asked, “What’s that?”
“It’s … a letter,” he managed at last.
“I can see that, idiot. What kind of letter?”
John pulled his eyes away and looked at his sister. “It’s from the British Association for Cancer Research. Apparently someone made an anonymous donation in Mum’s name.”
“That’s nice,” Harry said, “But not exactly unusual, is it? Didn’t we get a couple of those already? In lieu of flowers?”
John nodded. “Yes, but this one was rather … bigger.”
Harry had finally realized how shocked John was, and had pulled herself up to sit on the sofa. “How big?”
“One hundred thousand pounds.”
“What?” She was on her feet, pulling the letter from his hands. “It’s a joke, it must be.”
“Doesn’t look like it,” said John. “But who did Mum possibly know with that kind of money?”
“No kidding. Pity he didn’t send it to her kids, huh?”
John just shook his head. Typical Harry—jumping right past the mystery to thinking about herself. “What would we do with that kind of money? I’d rather know who it was. I wonder how they knew Mum? I wonder if we’ve ever met?”
Harry handed him back the letter. “We’ll never know, little brother.”
“Probably not. Might help cure cancer, though, so nobody else has to go through this,” he said, carefully folding it back into its envelope.
“Could even be you,” Harry said thoughtfully. “Have you decided on your specialty yet?”
“Surgery, but I haven’t narrowed further than that. I just want to help people. Maybe A&E. Or … I was thinking about the army. They always need medics.”
She looked horrified. “Are you crazy? You could be killed.”
He scoffed. “They don’t put the surgeons on the front lines, Harry. Think of all the good I could do.”
She laid her hand on his shoulder and then headed back to the couch. “Better you than me, Johnny.”
At least one of us can do some good in the world, thought John, gazing at the letter again. It looks like Mum did.
(Short, I know, but what else was there to say?)
Chapter 6: You Call That a Party?
It's just a boring birthday party until some unexpected guests arrive--with a bang!
Holly heaved a sigh and reached for her water glass. She was so bored. She didn’t want to be here. The restaurant was too formal, her family was too dull. It wasn’t that she didn’t care it was her grandmother’s 65th birthday, but really—did they have to go out to dinner? All of them? This really wasn’t her idea of a party.
She hid a smile at the thought of her parents at a party with her friends, with music blasting, crumbs from crisps ground into the sticky floor, someone setting up a keg in the kitchen … well, maybe. At 16, a kegger was still more the kind of party she aspired to than one she’d actually had. Not that getting drunk on cheap beer was her idea of a good time, either. That was so immature, really, wasn’t it? Something boys did because they thought it was cool?
She watched her Uncle James pontificating on the importance of family and hid a smile, picturing him at a kegger. She wondered if he’d ever done that when he was her age? Could he ever have actually been her age? He was so pompous and irritating, it didn’t seem possible. He’d been born old, she was sure of it, always talking about boring things like stocks and money, and how things had been different when he was young.
It just made her miss her great-uncle Ian all the more. He’d been almost as old, and it wasn’t like she’d spent a lot of time with him, but he’d been nice, and interested in lots of different things. He’d had a sense of humor, too, which was sorely missing in some of her other relatives.
Frankly, other than one or two of her cousins who weren’t altogether terrible, the most interesting relative she had wasn’t even here. She had asked Mum why and been reminded of the afternoon Uncle John and Sherlock had come for tea and ended up embarrassing the entire family. “We don’t want that to happen out in public, do we?” Mum had asked. Well, no, she supposed not, but didn’t Mum realize that they’d been kidding because Sherlock had been bored? She’d reminded her that Uncle John had saved Uncle James’ life at that fund-raiser, but Mum had just shushed her as usual, saying the guest list wasn’t her decision.
Of course, nobody knew that she’d seen Sherlock and Uncle John since then. To everyone else, they were just some weird, unforeseen, distant kind of relatives that they could ignore, but Holly was delighted to have somebody so interesting in her family.
With a sigh, she looked around the table again. The adults were talking about boring things like politics and her cousins were too busy arguing with each other to pay her any attention. She was just thinking about pulling out her phone to text with a friend when she heard a commotion coming from the kitchen.
In fact, it was more than a commotion. Even Uncle James had broken off his speech about proper family values (or whatever he was droning on about) to look toward the door at the back of the room. He was just starting to bluster about how he’d paid good money for this party, and how rude the help obviously was. Holly’s grandmother was putting her hand on his arm, trying to calm him down, when a huge crash came and everybody’s head turned.
Someone was going to be in trouble, she thought. What must they have dropped to make such a huge noise?
But then, the door burst open and people exploded into the room, shouting.
More than shouting.
The first man through looked like one of the kitchen help—wearing an apron and waving a knife. Or, rather, not waving the knife, but pressing it to the throat of a shorter man he held in front of him. A hostage, Holly thought, disbelieving. But this sort of thing didn’t happen in real life, did it? Was this entertainment, then? Like those murder mystery dinners where everybody tries to solve the crime?
But, no. First, that would require Uncle James to have a desire to be entertained (unlikely), but more than that, the crowd of police officers who had surged into the room right behind him were far too real looking. They were shouting, too, now. Holly’s ears registered phrases like “put the knife down,” and “let him go,” but the man just looked more frantic. His head was turning back and forth, looking toward the doors, looking toward the crowd of angry officers, looking at her family (shocked into stillness at the violent scene).
It wasn’t until she recognized Sherlock, stepping forward to the front of the crowd with one hand outstretched that she realized who the hostage was.
She gasped, noting how close the man held the knife to his throat. There was a hint of red there, now, and the knife was shaking in his hand. He was looking frightened now—the man with the knife, that is. Holly couldn’t believe how calm Uncle John looked—like this was something he did every day.
Sherlock was speaking now. “Put the knife down, Aimal. You don’t want to make this worse. We already know you killed your girlfriend.”
The man with the knife—Aimal—shook his head, taking a step toward the door. “No, I’m not going to prison. I’m walking out of here, and you’re going to let me.” Despite the confident words, Holly couldn’t believe how much his voice was shaking.
“Don’t be ridiculous, of course we’re not letting you leave. You can’t possibly be stupid enough to think we’d let you.”
“Not helping, Sherlock,” John said calmly, standing with his arms at his side, held in place by Aimal’s shaking hands. “Do you suppose you could not insult the man holding a knife to my throat?”
“But, John, he’s clearly delusional.”
At his name, there was a rustle of recognition around the table as her family realized that the hostage was someone they knew—family—even if they didn’t entirely want to admit it. She felt a pair of hands on her shoulder and leaned back against her father, her own hands coming up to cover her mouth as she tried to understand what was going on.
“Again, not helping, Sherlock.” Uncle John had glanced at Holly’s table—a quick kind of glance like he was noting his surroundings—but she saw him freeze a moment when he recognized them. (The fact that he could recognize them when he’d only met most of them once and had a knife to his throat impressed her more than she could say.) His eyes paused briefly as he looked at her. She didn’t know what expression she had on her face, but felt her eyes widen as he gave her the tiniest reassuring smile. How could he even think of her right now?
The police officers had spread out along the wall, though they hadn’t yet blocked the front entrance. Aimal was backing that way, pulling Uncle John with him. “Let the hostage go,” said the grey-haired detective next to Sherlock. “Nobody needs to get hurt, here.”
“And if you harm one hair on his head,” Sherlock told the man with icy menace, “I will kill you. So let him go … now!”
Uncle John tried to hide a wince as Aimal jumped at the word and the knife bit into his throat again. “Christ, Sherlock, don’t you know you’re supposed to calm hostage-takers, not upset them? He’s jittery enough.”
“But, John, I’m just trying …” Sherlock edged toward him, hand still outstretched, and Aimal took another jerky step away.
Another flinch. Another drop of blood. And then Uncle John rolled his eyes and muttered something under his breath and … Holly wasn’t even sure what happened. He grabbed the arm with the knife and jabbed an elbow into Aimal’s stomach and then … there was a flurry of motion with a spin and suddenly the knife was skittering across the floor and the man was on the floor, Uncle John kneeling on his back and securing his arms.
There was total silence in the room for a moment as everyone stared, stunned, and then Sherlock was rushing forward holding a pair of handcuffs. (The grey-haired officer shouted at him, but Holly wasn’t sure why.) Sherlock was yelling that he was just lucky John hadn’t been more seriously hurt. Then Aimal was being ushered away and Uncle John was sitting in a chair holding a napkin to his neck and trying to reassure everyone that he wasn’t really hurt.
She hadn’t even realized she was holding her breath until her father’s hands on her shoulders tightened and she exhaled abruptly. Holly’s family was still frozen in place, completely shocked at the events. Birthday parties weren’t supposed to be exciting, were they? With relatives bleeding on the rug as they subdued knife-wielding murderers? It was like they couldn’t decide whether to be appalled or relieved.
On his chair, being fussed over and scolded by the detective, Uncle John looked … embarrassed, which made no sense to Holly. Shocked, horrified, frightened, shaken, tired—any of these would have been reasonable reactions, but embarrassed?
Then she glanced back at the ruined birthday party and realized that everyone was staring at him. Her parents, her cousins, her aunts and uncles … everyone.
The only good thing that could be said was that they mostly didn’t look angry. In fact, most of them looked the way she thought Uncle John should look—shocked, frightened, shaken. Her cousins, not squabbling for a change, actually looked impressed. Only Uncle James looked disapproving, which Holly thought was terribly ungracious of him. Hadn’t Uncle John saved his life, after all?
Still, nobody at the table was moving. They all just stood there and stared at the tableau of Uncle John, Sherlock, and that detective. And that was wrong, wasn’t it? After he had almost been killed right in front of them? When he was family? Even if it was the kind of family they didn’t want to admit to (which made no sense to Holly)? But then what good were those family values Uncle James was always going on about?
After a moment, Holly stepped tentatively over to where Uncle John was being fussed over by a medic while Sherlock paced and the detective scolded him for taking risks.
“Uncle John? That was … Are you okay?”
The inspector stopped his ranting and Sherlock wheeled around on one heel. Didn’t they know it was rude to stare? Uncle John, though, smiled up at her. “I should be asking you. You shouldn’t have seen that.”
“I’m not a child, Uncle John,” she told him, irritation at being treated like one coloring her voice.
“I didn’t say you were, Holly. Just that I wish you hadn’t seen that.”
The police detective was staring. “Wait, you two know each other?”
Holly’s father had followed her over and answered before she could. “Yes, we’re cousins. Or, well, my wife and John are. It’s good to see you again, John.”
Now Uncle John looked even more embarrassed. “Um, quite. It looks like I intruded on some sort of party. Sorry about that.”
Sherlock had sidled over, too, and added with a smirk, “See, John? I can’t take you anywhere.”
Uncle John closed his eyes briefly and shook his head and then hissed a little in pain as the medic pressed a bandage against his throat. “In point of fact, Sherlock, it was Lestrade who brought us here.”
“But you’re the one who burst into the dining room, John. This would all have been quietly taken care of in the kitchen if you hadn’t provoked him.”
“Provoked him! Sherlock, you’re the one who spooked him into taking a hostage. I was merely standing in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Sherlock shrugged and looked at Holly, who was horrified to realize she was standing there with her mouth open. “It was lucky, really,” he told her, “Since John is one of the few people here able to take care of himself. There really was nothing to worry about.” Her eyes flicked to the blood-stained napkin Uncle John was holding, and Sherlock grimaced slightly. “How are those friends of yours, Holly?”
She smiled at him, grateful for the change of subject. “Oddly enough, they don’t speak to me anymore, but I consider I came out ahead on that score, so no worries.”
Uncle John was smiling at her again. “Glad to hear it. You deserved better.”
The detective was watching them, clearly clueless about what they were talking about, but that was okay. It was kind of nice to be sharing a secret with them, and she puffed up with pride at being talked to like an adult … and then heard her father ask, “What are you talking about?”
She froze. She hadn’t told her parents about her misadventure in London a few weeks ago. She hadn’t wanted to worry them, and everything had been okay, and hadn’t she taken care of herself like they were always telling her to? They hadn’t needed to know that her so-called friends had abandoned her, or that Sherlock and Uncle John had helped her out. But now…
She saw Sherlock’s eyes narrow slightly as he studied her face and he spoke just as she was opening her mouth to stammer out some kind of explanation. “We bumped into Holly when she and her friends were in London a few weeks ago. The British Museum, wasn’t it, Holly?”
“She never mentioned it,” her father said.
“That’s teenagers for you.” Uncle John’s eyes were gleaming now, as if he’d completely forgotten that he had blood dripping down his neck. “Not that it was really worth mentioning, just a quick hello. Her friends were rather rude, though.”
He looked past Holly’s father at the rest of the clan, who had moved closer in the last few minutes. She glanced over her shoulder. Her cousins were avid with curiosity, and looked jealous that she was having a real conversation with the hero of the evening. Her mother came over to stand with them. “I never thought much of Emma and Becky, either. They’re a small loss. How are you doing, John?”
He looked up at the medic who had just finished her bandaging. “Fine, thank you. Nothing serious.”
“That was so cool!” Holly’s cousin Chris couldn’t contain himself any longer. “The way you took that guy down! That was amazing! Can you show me how to do that?”
His mother shushed him and Uncle John looked embarrassed again. “I really shouldn’t have done that. It was too risky.”
“Damn straight,” Lestrade put in. “It was a stupid thing to do. Never mess about with a knife at your throat. I blame the army training.” He gave Chris a sharp look, and Holly suppressed a grin when he looked away, abashed. And then grinned outright when the inspector winked at her.
Uncle John cleared his throat. “Anyway, I’m sorry for whatever it is we interrupted.”
“My grandmother’s birthday party,” Holly told him. “Your Aunt Marie. She turns 65 on Tuesday.”
“Ah. I wish I’d known. I would have brought a gift.”
Now it was Holly’s mother who looked embarrassed. “Really, we should have invited you, too, John, but…”
He smiled at her and stood up, then paused a moment until his knees were cooperating. “No worries. Obviously I was busy tonight, anyway. Where is she, though?” He peered around Holly’s father and then eased his way through the crowd. (How had her family gotten so big that they actually became a bona fide crowd, anyway?) She saw him lean over to kiss Grandmother on the cheek and watched him apologizing. Unlike that family gathering months ago, Grandmother actually looked like she didn’t mind talking to him. She had a real smile on her face, and Holly could see her expressing concern about his throat, which he shrugged off modestly.
Meanwhile, she stood there with her parents, Sherlock, and that police detective, none of them sure exactly what to say. Holly saw her parents exchange one of those meaningful glances parents do so well, and then her mother said, “You know, we have a huge cake ordered for Mum’s birthday. Would you all like to stay for a piece? I feel like we should offer you something after that impressive, er, show.”
Holly brightened immediately and turned to Sherlock. “Oh, would you? You are family, after all, aren’t you? Kind of?”
He was watching Uncle John, who was talking to Uncle James now. Her grumpy uncle didn’t look happy about it, but was being polite as John obviously asked about his health. “Is that the man whose life John saved?” Lestrade asked.
Holly nodded. “Wasn’t that amazing? I couldn’t believe it when I heard about it at breakfast the next morning. I didn’t think they’d liked each other very much, and then for Uncle John to save his life! I mean, it’s incredible.”
“That would be John. He makes a habit of doing incredible things,” Sherlock said absently, eyes on the pair, noting John’s casual manner, his easy smile. “We’d love to stay long enough for cake, wouldn’t we, Lestrade?”
The detective was shaking his head. “It’s very nice of you, but we’ve got a murderer to get down to the Yard…”
“Nonsense,” said Sherlock, “You have minions for that. You can take enough time for cake. It’s a party, after all.”
Holly couldn’t help the smile that spread across her face. Why had she ever thought tonight would be boring?
Chapter 7: Grateful for Your Service
Ian learns of John's return from Afghanistan and wonders how he can help.
Ian initialed the memo for his secretary and turned to the next piece of correspondence.
His heart lurched as he looked at the envelope with its “return to sender” stamp across the address. “That’s odd,” he said lightly, trying not to show how terrified he was.
It was a routine letter, sent from his “scholarship fund”—the fund that had ever only supported one student, John Watson. It had been his way of paying for the boy’s university education, including medical school. Despite his agreement with John’s parents that he would not interfere, he had wanted to do something for the boy when he headed off to school and this scholarship had been how. He knew the Watsons had wanted John to earn his way, but a university education was expensive, and Ian had felt guilty having the money to pay for it, so … this scholarship fund. It hadn’t covered everything, so John had still had to work, just … not quite so hard.
It had given Ian the rare pleasure of meeting the boy, too. He’d attended his graduation “on behalf of” the scholarship committee and had finally been able to see his son face to face, to shake his hand. He still remembered the look on his mother’s face, too—resigned amusement, as if she had known all along and had been humoring him. Then again, maybe she had. John’s mother had never been stupid, and it’s not like his wealth was a secret. Or maybe it had just been the blessings of the day—sunshine and bright promise—that had made her forgive that one, sole meeting.
Sadly, much of the day’s promise had failed. John’s mother had died within the year of a particularly brutal form of cancer. His sister had turned to alcohol and was now having trouble holding down a job, and John had joined the army to get away from all the grief.
It had nearly broken Ian’s heart. He had never realized how hard it would be to worry about a son he could not acknowledge who was risking his life in a war zone every day.
He had always wanted to claim the boy, but the Watsons had been determined to keep him, and Ian was not the type to break up a family. He had agreed to stay away, but insisted on helping with mortgage payments, to keep a roof overhead. He had tried to keep an eye on John from afar, but it had been hard—especially once Ian had a wife and children of his own. If he hadn’t been keeping track of the years, he could have missed John heading off to university altogether.
After John’s mother died, Ian had thought about contacting him and telling him the truth, but decided the emotional turmoil would be too hard, too much, coming on top of losing his mother. Instead, he had stood back and watched as his (oldest and unacknowledged) son joined the army and tried not to burst with pride.
He had initiated a means of keeping tabs, though—an annual letter from the “scholarship fund,” asking for alumni news. John Watson had been raised to be grateful and polite, and so he had always responded, which is how Ian had learned of his promotion to Captain—though John modestly never reported any of the medals he won.
But now … this.
The army had returned his letter.
That couldn’t possibly be good news. If John’s address had changed, they would normally just forward it, wouldn’t they? Or report the new address back to the sender? But they hadn’t done that. They just sent it back, no explanation.
His brain tried to whisper that surely it would be stamped “Deceased” if John were dead, but his heart wouldn’t listen, already clenched with fear. Would the army let a loved one learn about a death in such a callous fashion?
He looked up at his assistant. “Get me General Admunson on the phone, would you? It’s not urgent, but I’d like to talk to him.”
He pivoted toward the window as she left the room, and tried to fight down the fear clawing up his throat. John couldn’t be dead, could he? No, he couldn’t. This was just a bureaucratic mix-up, somehow. John had a new address, perhaps. Or maybe his tour was over and he was home? There was no reason to jump to the wrong conclusion.
His phone buzzed and he swung back to grab it. “Mitch?” he said in greeting. “How’re you doing?”
“I’m good, Ian, can’t complain … much. What can I do for you today?”
Ian smiled a tight, dry smile. His old school mate never beat around the bush, and years in the military had just reinforced that. “It’s a little irregular, but I was hoping you could get me some information about a soldier. A letter I sent him came back in the mail and … I’d just like to …”
“Know if something happened to him?” Mitch’s voice was calm. He probably got calls like this every week.
“If it’s not too much trouble.” Ian had to clear his throat to get past a whisper. He gave John’s information and agreed to hold while Mitch ran it through the computers.
After a few (endless, agonizing, eternal) minutes, Mitch was back. “Captain John Watson, Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers,” he said, clearly reading from a file. “39 years old, on his third tour. Well, Ian, you’ll be glad to know that he is not dead, but he’s been invalided home. Came under fire while helping a patient—shot in the shoulder, it says here. Saved two, possibly three, lives before passing out from loss of blood. Near full recovery expected, according to the doc on scene. Possibly some loss of function from nerve damage, but that should be minimal—though seeing that he’s a surgeon, that’s bad luck. Could be worse. I guess the army postal service lost track of where he was when you sent your letter.”
The air in Ian’s lungs felt like it had doubled in weight, he could barely manage to breathe. John had been shot? “But … he’s back home, you say?”
“I’ve got a London address for him, one of those temporary housing bedsits for while he’s in therapy. I can give you that, if you like.”
“Please.” Ian wrote down the information with a shaking hand, trying hard to sound normal on the phone. “I can’t thank you enough, Mitch.”
“S’no problem. How do you know him, anyway?”
“We funded his schooling through medical school, and like to keep tabs. Nothing special.”
The skepticism practically roiled through the phone. “Right. And the Chairman of the company himself is the one to make this call?”
“I like to stay involved, Mitch.”
“Sure you do.” A few keyboard taps, and then, “You know, there’s a photo attached to his file. He looks remarkably like an old schoolmate of mine.”
Ian froze. “Oh, really?”
“Yes, really. According to the record, he’s a good soldier, too. Resourceful, brave, and incredibly caring as a doctor. That’s a rare combination—most men are good at one or the other, but to be both a soldier and a doctor? And good at both? Unique. No real complaints in the entire file, either. Lots of commendations. You can be proud of the … education … you funded. We’ll be sorry to lose him.”
Ian gave a deep breath. “Thanks for your help, Mitch.”
“My pleasure, Ian. Get together sometime soon? It’s been too long.”
“I’d like that,” Ian told him, and then said good-bye and hung up the phone, thinking hard.
Thank God he’s not dead, was his first thought, but … shot? His son had been shot? Nerve damage in his shoulder? For a surgeon? That would be career-ending.
What could he do to help?
The scholarship alumni committee recently learned of your injuries in Afghanistan, and wish to extend our sympathies. We are grateful for your years of service to Queen and Country and make it our policy to aid any of our alumni who have served.
To that end, please find enclosed a check for £5,000. Consider it gratitude from a grateful scholarship committee on behalf of a grateful nation.
In addition, if you need help finding a new position, please don’t forget that our career guidance is available to alumni as well as to current students.
Please do keep us informed of your current address in case of further announcements.
“They just sent you a check? No messy paperwork? No forms to fill out in triplicate? That’s odd, isn’t it?” Sherlock had actually sat up on the couch, arrested by John’s news.
John was sitting in his chair, staring at the check. “Very odd, but I’m not exactly in a position to complain, am I? This will cover my part of the security deposit and give me a start on the rent while I look for a job. Its timing couldn’t be better.”
Sherlock dropped the letter on the coffee table and sniffed as he lay back down. “I’d cash that check in a hurry if I were you, just in case it’s a trick of some kind. Getting money is never that easy. And hang on to the letter in case somebody tries to con you about this later on.”
“Well, if they do, at least I have a detective to help track down the crooks,” John said with a grin at his new flatmate. “Meanwhile, I’ll just send them my new address, shall I? In case they want to send any more?”
221B Baker Street? Ian stared at the change of address card John had thoughtfully sent back with a thank you note. It was a remarkably good location for an unemployed doctor on an army pension. It sounded familiar, too. Hadn’t he heard something …?
He reached for his laptop and googled the address and came across The Science of Deduction. Of course. Sherlock Holmes. He snorted, looking at the website. How pretentious, really. So stuffy, taking itself so seriously. Just like the Holmes family.
He paused as another thought occurred, and he did another quick search. Ah, yes.
Moments later, he was reading the blog of John Watson. There was very little there, but there was a new post about … well, a new flatmate, and a chase through London that ended with catching that cabbie serial killer Ian had read about.
He leaned back in his chair as he pondered that. He’d never met Sherlock, but he knew his parents and occasionally saw Mycroft at charity events and such. They were one of those families that were reserved, that you didn’t hear much about, yet that you knew were quietly powerful in the background. And fiercely loyal. If John had moved in with Sherlock and was solving crimes with him, chances were he’d be just fine.
Having a flatmate who was a soldier and a doctor could only be beneficial to Sherlock, too, if he was going to go chasing criminals. And for a soldier and a doctor who had just lost not just one but both professions at one blow? This could be just what he needed.
Yes, suddenly he wasn’t worried at all.
Lucky timing, really. This chapter has been on queue for a week or so, it's just luck that the timing feel right on the U.S. Memorial Day when we remember and thank our nation's veterans. Thanks to all the soldiers everywhere for doing what they can to keep the world safe.
Chapter 8: Some Holiday
After Ian's funeral, John and Sherlock go on holiday, but it turns out John's new house isn't empty after all.
“This is going to be good, Sherlock. A real holiday. I can’t remember the last time I had one.” John stood next to the rental car and stretched. Just knowing he was hours away from all the problems in London made him feel more relaxed already.
The last few weeks had been stressful, to say the least. Sherlock and Harry being kidnapped. Finding out that his father was in fact one of the richest men in England, and that the kidnapper had been his half-brother. Having his new-found father die from cancer mere days after they finally met.
After all that, learning that he’d left John not only more than enough money to live on, but two actual houses was almost easy to take in stride.
What had been a surprise was Sherlock’s offer to take a holiday and visit them. The thought of Sherlock on holiday … well, John still couldn’t picture it. He’d seen his friend spend lazy days on the couch at the flat—usually complaining about being bored and shooting at the walls—but the idea of traveling solely to relax for days at a time? This was new.
He certainly wasn’t arguing, though. John hadn’t had a real holiday since he was a kid, and tried not to admit to himself how much he was looking forward to this. Using a “survey of your new property” as an excuse was just fine with him.
On that note, he turned toward the house and … surveyed.
The first word that came to mind was ‘charming,’ because this was one of the most charming examples of an English cottage that John had ever seen. Not too big, not too small, it was perfect and utterly inviting. Flowers teemed through the yard and trailed up the walls, delighting the eye and making the air fragrant.
He couldn’t help but smile as he pulled his bag out of the boot. If he could keep Sherlock from being completely bored in the first two hours, he could be quite happy here.
He glanced at his friend, surprised to find him gazing at the flowers with the incisive look usually reserved for crime scenes. “Expecting trouble in the shrubbery?”
Sherlock shook his head with a smile. “No, merely watching the bees.”
“Yes, didn’t you know? I’ve always found them fascinating.” Sherlock reached over for his bag. “Got the key?”
John pulled the house key from his pocket as they headed up the walk. “Right here. The lawyer said everything should be in order. They have someone check on it every month or so, but it hasn’t actually been lived in in years—just used for the occasional weekend.”
Eyes on the keys in his hand, he almost bumped into Sherlock, who had stopped at the door—the unlatched door—fingers outstretched. He nudged it to swing open on its hinges. Silently, they both put down their bags and with a gesture, Sherlock disappeared around the corner of the house as John eased into the hall. John spared a momentary wish for his pistol, left back at Baker Street, but then told himself he was being silly. It was probably a stray cat, or something.
Except—stray cats don’t usually have stereos blasting. Now that he was in the house, he heard music wafting up the hallway. Burglars don’t usually stop to test out the merchandise, do they? Maybe it was the cleaning service? Silently, he stepped into the sitting room and took the poker from the fireplace, wincing at the iron clatter.
Armed with his poker, he ghosted down the hallway, trying not to be disappointed that this was his introduction to the house—stalking an intruder rather than just being able to walk in the front door like a normal person. But then, what about his life was ever normal?
He edged down the hallway toward the source of the noise. Peering around the corner, he saw a cheery kitchen, bright with afternoon sun. A young man was standing at the sink, filling a kettle as his head bopped to the beat of the music. Well, thought John, he certainly didn’t look like a burglar.
Head cocked as he listened for any other sounds, he slid further along the wall to get a better look into the room. He caught a glimpse of Sherlock through the door to the garden and gave him a nod, holding up one finger.
Abruptly, Sherlock straightened and reached for the door knob, which turned easily in his hand. He stepped into the room and gave a cough, causing the man with the kettle to spin, flinging a stream of water across the kitchen. “Christ! Who are you?”
“I might ask you the same thing,” said Sherlock as he took another step. “Who are you, and what are you doing here?”
“I live here, mate. If you’re looking for a hand-out, you’ve come to the wrong place.”
John lowered his poker and started to enter the room, but stopped at Sherlock’s miniscule shake of the head. “A hand-out?” he asked. “Hardly. I’m on holiday, and you’re in my house.”
The young man chuckled and reached for a towel to mop up the water. “Nope, sorry. You have the wrong house. You always come in the back when you’re on holiday?”
One elegant eyebrow lifted. “I do when the front door is open instead of locked like it should be.”
John was just starting to relax—there might be a mix-up here, but it didn’t seem dangerous—when a voice came from behind him. “Who the bloody hell are you?”
John spun, lifting the poker again to find a very angry woman in her twenties glaring at him with complete disregard for the poker. “Mark? What’s going on?” she called, her voice more angry than frightened. “What is this person … these people … doing in our house?”
“Whoa, two of them,” Mark murmured. “I don’t know, Gretchen. I was just trying to figure that out. Who are you?”
John lowered the poker and stepped into the kitchen, easing to the side to let the girl pass. “I’m John Watson and this is Sherlock Holmes. This is my house. Unless we somehow made a wrong turn somewhere?” He read off the address from the letter.
Gretchen was shaking her head. “You’re in the right place, but this is Mark’s house. Or, well, it belongs to his uncle, but it’s ours.”
“No, I’m sorry, but it’s mine,” John told her as he laid the poker on the floor. “Ian left it to me. I can show you the letter from the lawyer, if you like.”
“Yes,” Sherlock put in, “The letter from the lawyer which also states that this house is unoccupied.”
Mark put the kettle down on the counter with a splash. “Uncle Ian gave away my house?”
“His house,” Sherlock corrected.
Mark looked completely dumbstruck. “But we live here!”
“An interesting point, really, since he was under the impression the house was only used for the occasional weekend. I’m sure he would have mentioned the existence of a permanent resident.” Sherlock told him.
“Uncle Ian doesn’t mind,” said Mark, “Or at least he never said anything. Look, let me just call him…”
John blinked at him. “Call him?”
“Yes. We can get this settled easily enough. I mean, he’s been sick, but I’m sure he won’t mind one phone call…”
“You’re obviously behind on the family gossip.” Sherlock’s voice was flat. “Is that why you weren’t at the funeral?”
The young man looked stunned. “Funeral? Wait, you mean … Uncle Ian …?”
“Is dead, yes. And he left this house to John.”
“To who?” Mark was staring wildly between them, clearly shocked by the news.
John closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. This could only happen to him. “Me. John Watson. I’m still shaky on the family connections. If Ian was your uncle, that makes you … who, exactly?”
“James’ son. And who the hell are you, that Uncle Ian would leave you a HOUSE?”
John sighed. He really didn’t want to have to explain this again. “It’s a long story. Your father didn’t call you? You haven’t seen the news? Because he’s certainly been vocal enough.”
“No, what news? We’ve been out of touch…” Mark’s voice sounded lost now. Gretchen had moved over to give him a hug as John went over to the kitchen table and sat down.
“I said it’s a long story, but … Christ, this doesn’t get any easier.” He took a long breath and looked at the stricken pair. “Ian was my father.”
If possible, Mark looked even more stunned. “No, that’s not possible. He would never have cheated on his wife.”
“I didn’t say he did,” John said gently. “I understand he knew my mother well before he met his own wife, which is why I’m so much older than Geoffrey and … Andy.”
Mark just blinked. “Jesus. Andy. How’s he taking this? He must be devastated.”
Sherlock snorted a laugh as he punched at his phone. “Devastated, maybe, but mostly because he’s in jail.”
“Kidnapping. Battery. Attempted murder. The usual.” Sherlock flung out the words with relish, accenting each of them with a flick of his fingers as he handed his phone to Mark. “You missed all the exciting news coverage.”
John gave Sherlock a stern look as Mark and Gretchen bent their heads over the phone to read. At least that would take care of John having to explain everything from scratch. But, really, Jesus, what were they going to do? Even if these two were living here illegally (sort of), it’s not like he wanted to toss them on the street without any warning. But—where were he and Sherlock supposed to go?
He needed tea. He stood up and walked over to the counter, picking up the kettle from its puddle and easing around the couple clinging to each other as they read. Sherlock was leaning against the door jamb watching them, looking for all the world as if this was the most entertaining thing he’d seen all week. Considering he was Sherlock Holmes, it probably was.
John was just opening a cabinet to look for tea bags when Mark said, “This can’t possibly all be true. Andy kidnapped you? Why?”
“Strictly speaking, he kidnapped Sherlock. And my sister,” John told him, pulling out a set of mugs. “I don’t profess to understand his reasoning, but I believe it was something about not wanting me to be eligible to inherit anything.”
“And by ‘not eligible,’ he means dead,” supplied Sherlock helpfully, ignoring John’s glare. “Ian was so incensed, he rewrote his will so that almost all of his money went to two new charities he set up, but he left John a little money … and this house.”
Gretchen was shaking her head. “I can’t believe your uncle would do that to you, Mark. Without any warning? Why wouldn’t he tell you? Or at least the lawyers, if he was too sick? What are we going to do?”
A flicker of something crossed Mark’s face and John wasn’t surprised when Sherlock’s faster instincts caught it. “Interesting. According to the lawyer, this house is empty except for monthly inspections to check the roof and such. It’s intriguing that they missed spotting the fact that two people were actually living here every time, isn’t it?”
Now Mark looked uncomfortable, and Gretchen pulled back. “What does he mean, Mark?”
“Okay, okay. We don’t officially live here. It was more like an honorary kind of thing,” he stammered out. He turned to glare at Sherlock. “But Uncle Ian knew about it! He knew I was having trouble and said it would be okay.”
“Ah, but did he realize that instead of just crashing here for a month or two, you’d actually moved in? And with a girlfriend?”
“Well, of course he … I mean, I’m sure he must have …”
Sherlock sniffed. “So that’s a no, then. What did you do? Leave the house every month so it would look empty and then come right back after the inspection?” asked Sherlock, looking smug and satisfied at winkling out a confession.
John just shook his head and looked for sugar for his tea. It was good for shock, after all. He just wished it were something stronger. “I swear, nothing in my life is easy,” he muttered as he poured boiling water in the four mugs.
“Easy! You were just given MY HOUSE,” Mark yelled. “It doesn’t get easier than that! You probably have no idea what it’s like to need money.”
John couldn’t help it. He started to laugh. “Oh god, that’s possibly the funniest thing I ever heard,” he said. “You’ve got to be kidding. I wasn’t raised as a Littleston, remember? Up until very recently, all I had was my army pension and what little I could get from locum work at the local surgery. I met Sherlock in the first place because the only way we could make rent was to share a flat.”
Gretchen lifted her head. “Wait. Sherlock Holmes? The detective who killed himself for being a fraud?”
“At your service,” Sherlock said with aplomb. “Except, of course, that I was not a fraud and I didn’t really kill myself. You really are behind on the news.”
“No, I knew that. I heard about your reappearance. I just … can’t believe you’re in our kitchen.”
Silence for a long moment, and then Sherlock said, “John’s kitchen.”
“Jesus, Sherlock, give it a rest,” said John wearily. “This is difficult enough. Look, this is a shock for all of us. I’m not a landlord from one of those Victorian penny dreadfuls, here to kick you out of your home. I didn’t even know you were here, for Christ’s sake. I’m just trying to make sense of this—which will be a first, really, because trust me. Nothing in my life these days makes sense, but I’ve gotten used to it.”
He scrubbed a hand over his face. “How did you not hear about Ian dying, anyway?”
Mark looked embarrassed. “The mobile reception here is pretty horrible, and I sometimes go for days without checking anything. I thought Father would let me know if something happened I needed to know about …”
“But how could he let you know if there’s no reception? Send you an email?” Sherlock’s tone was biting, and John stifled a groan. He really wasn’t making this any easier.
“Well, I don’t actually have a computer. I find it interferes with my work.”
“Yes, I’m an artist.” Mark waved his hand at the walls full of paintings. “I need isolation to concentrate, which is why this place is so perfect.”
Gretchen was nodding. “Don’t think it doesn’t drive me barmy, either. Some of us actually like the 21st century, after all.”
“So, you have email and an internet connection?” asked Sherlock.
“Well, I have email, but I have to go to the library in town to access it, and it’s been over a week…” she trailed off. “It’s not like James would ever email me, anyway.”
“Incredible,” said Sherlock. “It’s like falling into a Conan Doyle novel. It’s the nineteenth century all over again. Do you people have a car? Or do you use a horse and buggy? You’ve heard of newspapers, haven’t you?”
“Sherlock.” It was all John said, but the tone of voice was enough to silence his friend for the moment. “I still don’t see why your father wouldn’t have let you know—especially since he knew I’d gotten this house. Heaven knows he was upset enough about, well, everything to want to share the news with everyone.”
“Yes, the interview he gave The Sun was particularly enlightening,” Sherlock put in.
John grinned. “Not really one of his better moments, I don’t think. But it’s true—he is decidedly not happy about any of this. I’m not one of his favorite people.”
“Good thing there are DNA tests,” said Sherlock.
“Right,” agreed John, but he turned back to Mark, trying to drag the conversation back on track. “So—why would he not make a point of telling you this? He’s been burning everyone else’s ear about this travesty, as he calls it. How did he miss his own son?”
Mark looked down at the table. “He doesn’t know I’m here,” he said very quietly. “In fact, he thinks I’m in Italy.”
“Italy?” asked Sherlock, face eager at the new data. “And alone? I gather he doesn’t approve of Gretchen?”
Mark and Gretchen shared a look and he sighed. “He doesn’t even know about Gretchen. I haven’t told him yet because I know he’s going to make a fuss. That’s why I’ve been avoiding his calls—if he couldn’t reach me, he couldn’t go on about how I’m wasting my life trying to be an artist, and he can’t complain about the best thing in my life.”
Gretchen reached out and took his hand. “We’ve been together for six months now, but Mark is terrified of disappointing his father.”
“And you think by not telling him, this will make things better?” John was appalled. A thousand movies and television shows—not to mention novels both old and new—all clearly showing the pitfalls of keeping your romance a secret, yet people did it anyway.
“You’re only delaying the inevitable, you know. Whether he’s going to approve or not, a few months one way or another isn’t going to make a difference.” John told him bluntly. “Believe me, keeping big, life-altering secrets just makes things harder when you come clean.”
“Look, I’m sorry about the house…”
John shook his head. “I’m not talking about the house. I’m talking about not telling your father about your life. It doesn’t matter how good your motives, or how justified the reason, not telling is going to end up making matters worse.”
Sherlock was nodding. “Trust us on this. Big secrets have a tendency to explode in big, messy revelations that leave everybody feeling hurt. Appeals to logic don’t make the emotions any less damaging.”
Gretchen was looking at them closely. “You’re not just talking about Mark and his father, are you? This is about the two of you.”
“Not really, but we, er, have had experience with the Big Messy Secret,” admitted John. “Sherlock’s big secret-reveal was a while ago, and we’re past it, but it took more work than it would have if things had gone differently. If it had been possible for them to go differently. But that’s not really the point. We investigate mysteries all the time and see exactly what kind of harm comes from keeping painful secrets—affairs, murders, embezzlement, even just lying to your kids about what you were really doing on your business trip. Secrets have a tendency to come out at the worst possible time, in the worst possible way. Look at me.”
He sipped his tea and marshalled his thoughts. “I am Ian’s big secret. He knew about me my whole life but never told anyone, but somehow Andy found out and decided to take steps. He kidnapped my sister and my best friend, and tried to kill me. This caused Ian to contact me and change his will, and now Andy is in jail, I’ve got money coming in to cover the rent each month, and you no longer have your house. All of this would have been avoided if the secret hadn’t been a secret, or if it had been revealed differently.”
“Like after Ian was dead,” put in Sherlock, “Which was his original plan. He would therefore not have had to deal with the consequences, and it would have been too late to change John’s inheritance. Andy, though, wouldn’t be in jail for kidnapping and attempted murder, and England would be short two new charities. All very different.”
“Tell your father,” John said urgently. “Tell him about Gretchen. Tell him about your art. Tell him it’s your life to live. You’re old enough. But don’t exclude him.”
“What if he disowns me? What if he never talks to me again?”
John shrugged. “It doesn’t sound like he’s talking to you now, if he didn’t bother to tell you your grandfather died—especially since he’s been happily ranting about it to anyone who’ll listen. And, really, are you living on his money right now? You obviously haven’t been paying Ian any rent.”
Mark had the grace to look abashed. “No, and I probably should have been.” He looked at his girlfriend. “I’ll call him tomorrow, and we can be out by the end of the week.”
“Don’t worry about it,” John told him. “Make things right with your father first. We can come to some kind of agreement about rent. What kind of cousin would I be if I kicked you out on the street?”
“Really?” Gretchen’s voice was stunned. “You’re letting us stay?”
Sherlock was watching John with a sardonic smile. “Of course he is. John Watson’s far too kind-hearted to do anything ruthless … unless you force him to.” At Mark’s questioning look, he smiled his predator’s smile and said, “He was in the army, after all, and he knows how to use a gun. Just don’t be late on the rent.”
“Sherlock, don’t scare my cousin,” John said quellingly. “Now, it’s getting late. Does this house have a guest room? Or is there a hotel nearby, or what?”
Next up: Sherlock comes home to find the flat full of teenage Littlestons.
Chapter 9: A Little Invasion
Sherlock bounded up the stairs at 221B, but stopped short on the landing. Was that … music? And … laughter? At least that didn’t seem likely to be dangerous, he thought, as he carefully pushed the door open.
He didn’t know what he’d expected to see, but … this wasn’t it.
Sherlock paid off the cab and stepped toward the door of 221B, mind whirring with all the things he had to do. There was the test on the asphalt from the murder scene he needed to do, and he would need to determine if the motives of the victim’s sister-in-law corresponded to the chemistry results. He would talk that over with John while he mulled it over. Somehow, talking about cases with John helped clarify things so much better than discussing them with anybody else.
Eager to get started, Sherlock bounded up the stairs at 221B, but stopped short on the landing.
Was that … music? And … laughter? At least that didn’t seem likely to be dangerous, he thought, as he carefully pushed the door open.
He didn’t know what he’d expected to see, but … this wasn’t it. He was reminded of those university parties to which he’d never been invited—the kind with crowds of loud, obnoxious, drunk teenagers. Not that there was alcohol in view, he observed, nor was it overly crowded. It was more the … atmosphere. Everyone in the room was laughing and having a good time.
He stood in the doorway a long moment before anyone noticed him.
John’s niece Holly was there, enthusing about … something. He couldn’t make out the words, he was so distracted by the high-pitched excitement in her voice. Had she spoken in exclamation points before? And what was she doing here, anyway? Had she lost her purse again? But, no. He recognized the boys with her from that birthday party where John had taken out a murderer in front of his (annoying) relatives.
Apparently this was a family visit.
Ugh. Holly’s voice washed past him. “…since you’re so cool, they said, and they insisted we come…”
He looked around the sitting room. It wasn’t as crowded as it first seemed. Mrs. Hudson was in her element, handing out tea and biscuits with a gleeful smile on her face. There was a teenaged boy fussing with the stereo (apparently he was in charge of the … did they call that music? … but had not yet discovered how to turn down the volume). Another teenager was standing by the fireplace (touching his skull), and a third had John backed into the corner while he droned on about something probably very boring indeed.
John, Sherlock was surprised to see, didn’t seem as if he minded. He couldn’t possibly find an adolescent’s ravings to be interesting, could he? But the expression on his face spoke more than just politeness.
Just then, Holly looked up. “Sherlock!” she squealed when she saw him. “You’re home! We were starting to wonder!”
Sherlock took a hesitant step into the room and then … just stopped. It was as if he’d walked into a wall. She stopped chattering and looked up at him in concern. “Are you all right, Sherlock?”
He closed his eyes, trying to block out the noise. What were all these people doing here when he needed to think?
The music stopped suddenly and silence—blessed silence—fell on the room as he opened his eyes. Everyone was staring at him. He hated when people stared. It really was like university all over again. Torn between the desire to yell at all of them for invading his space, his life, and the need to get away from the commotion, he just turned on his heel and swept into his bedroom, shutting the door behind him. (He was proud of himself that he hadn’t slammed it.)
This was probably the kind of thing John had enjoyed when he was at school, he thought, suddenly reminded of how much he had hated school. Hated the classes which were always so boring. Hated the teachers who were so stupid. And hated, most especially hated, the other students who had made his life so miserable. Wasn’t one of the advantages of being an adult the relief of NOT having to deal with adolescents any longer?
He paced around the room for a moment, pondering an exit down the fire escape. Though, why had he reacted so strongly? This wasn’t the first time he’d come home to a flat teeming with activity and noise. Lestrade’s patented drugs busts, for example, were almost a mainstay. This was just a mere handful of people—John’s family—and here he was, hiding in his room. What had just happened?
“Sherlock?” It was John’s voice, sweetened by a note of concern. “Are you all right? Are we making too much noise?”
Sherlock froze, like a cornered animal. For one absurd moment, the thought crossed his mind that if he just stood still, John wouldn’t realize he was there, but that was patently ridiculous. As punishment to his brain for failing him, he swung open the door.
John was standing there, an apologetic look on his face (as there should be), and Sherlock could see the rest of them in the sitting room, staring down the hallway. How wonderful. Now he looked ridiculous, too.
“I didn’t know they were coming,” John said. “They just showed up. If I’d known you were coming back so soon, I would have warned you. If you need things to be quiet so you can concentrate, I’ll boot them out.”
Sherlock blinked, bolstered by John’s consideration. He could always count on John, the only person in the universe to put Sherlock ahead of everyone else. “What are they doing here? Another stolen purse?”
John smiled. “No, Sherlock, they’re just visiting. Apparently we’re the cool relatives now and they couldn’t stay away. I blame your coat, really. I did tell you it would cause trouble.”
“That, and Uncle John taking out a murderer during Gram’s birthday party. Not to mention you teaching those so-called friends of mine a lesson.” Holly had crept down the hallway, face concerned. “We’re really sorry if we’re in the way. We should have, I don’t know, called ahead or something. Mum’s always said it was rude to drop in on people, and I don’t want you to think that we have no manners at all. You probably have a million important things to do, so … we’ll just leave, shall we?”
Sherlock blinked. She seemed so tentative, so concerned … so much like John. He wanted to tell them to, yes, just leave, but … he softened. “I do have things to do, yes, but that’s no reason for you not to be able to visit John.”
Her eyes lit and her lips parted slightly. “Really? Would you … maybe you could have a cup of tea with us before you get back to work? Would that be all right? Please?” She reached out and took his hand and, to his surprise, Sherlock let her lead him down the hall, leaving John bemused at the doorway.
“Everyone, this is Sherlock,” Holly said to the crowd in the sitting room. “He’s got work to do, but said he’d have a cup of tea first, and then we’re going to have to go.” She rattled off the names of her cousins, but Sherlock wasn’t really paying attention.
“It’s just so cool to meet you,” said … Chris, Sherlock thought. “Are you after a murderer right now?”
“Don’t be daft,” said the other one. “He’s in his sitting room and drinking tea. How could he be chasing a murderer?”
Sherlock pursed his lips and accepted a mug from Mrs. Hudson as he sat in his chair. “In point of fact, I can do both. Before you can actually capture the murderer, you need to figure out who he or she is. That kind of rational thought can be done best in quiet concentration—but then, nobody really thinks anymore, so perhaps you didn’t know that.”
“What do you mean, nobody thinks? I think all the time,” said … Charles?
“Really? About what? Tomorrow’s homework assignment? How to sneak out of the house?” Sherlock tried to hide a sneer. Remember they’re children, he told himself. Mustn’t be mean to children. “But to capture a murderer, you need more than what you’re given in a text book. What’s his motivation? How did he do it? What clues did he leave behind? How violent is he likely to be? You need not only to think, but to observe.”
He ignored the small groan from John’s direction.
One of the boys looked interested. “What do you mean?”
“Well, take this case,” Sherlock said. “We have a dead woman in an alley. She’s in her thirties, married, with evidence that she has been having an affair. Her purse was still there, as was her mobile, so it wasn’t a mugging—though if her killer had been smart, he or she would have taken those things to throw off the police.”
“It was her husband,” Chris (?) stated firmly. “It had to be. I heard that it’s almost always the spouse, and if she was having an affair … he must have known.”
Sherlock nodded. “Statistically, most murder victims knew their killers, and yes, partners are usually the first suspects. However, in this case, he had a cast-iron alibi. He is a lawyer and spent most of the day in court in front of highly reliable witnesses. Never make assumptions without sufficient data.”
“Maybe he hired someone to kill her?” suggested the one Sherlock decided to think of as Charles.
“A professional would never have neglected to take her bag, not if it was meant to look like a mugging. No, this was not premeditated. The weapon was a piece of pipe found in the alley.”
“The lover, then.” Chris bounced on his toes in his enthusiasm. “He wanted her to leave her husband but she wouldn’t, so he killed her.”
“Do you get all your ideas from unrealistic telly?” Sherlock shared a glance with John, who was leaning against the doorway, looking amused. “No, according to her phone, the location was wrong.”
Chris huffed and said, “Well, you didn’t tell us that part, did you? It’s not fair if you don’t tell us the important parts.”
Sherlock lifted an eyebrow. “Do you think the murderer is helpfully leaving clues? It’s not like there’s a big arrow pointing to the clues—that’s what makes this an investigation. That’s why you need to observe. Whoever said that this was fair? Life isn’t fair. Who wants it to be easy?.”
The boy’s shoulders slumped even further and Sherlock felt a twinge of … not guilt, but the realization that he had been less than tactful—again. He was surprised when Holly spoke up. “That’s what makes it a challenge, right? Like a big puzzle?”
“Yes. You build a case by putting together your evidence and your knowledge of the victims. It’s exactly like a puzzle.”
John coughed slightly from spot on the wall. “A puzzle with a dead person at the center of it. Don’t forget that part. It’s not supposed to be fun.”
“Don’t be silly, John,” snapped Sherlock. “Of course it’s fun. You enjoy the chase as much as I do. The fact that a person has died just makes it that much more important, that much more urgent to solve it quickly.”
He realized they were all staring at him again and sighed. “What? If we were only searching for a missing pet rabbit, it wouldn’t matter very much, would it? Investigating unimportant things leaves too much room for error because it doesn’t matter if you make mistakes. Not really. It makes for careless investigating and sloppy thinking.”
Silence for a moment, and then John said, “That’s actually a good point.”
“Of course it was.” Sherlock helped himself to the biscuits Mrs. Hudson had put on the table. “Besides, it’s important to enjoy one’s work.”
John laughed. “And you were doing so well.”
“But, Sherlock, if it wasn’t the husband or the lover … who killed her?” Holly asked.
“What? No way,” protested Chris. “A girl? Hitting her over the head with a pipe in an alley?”
“What?” Sherlock mimicked him. “Women can’t be stupidly violent? Of course they can. Especially when she finds out her sister-in-law has been cheating on her little baby brother. She learned of the affair and confronted the victim with it, threatening to reveal the affair. It didn’t go as she planned, though, because the victim didn’t back down. She certainly showed no remorse, so in a fit of rage, our killer picked up a pipe and struck out. She probably didn’t mean to kill her, but that doesn’t matter.”
“How can you possibly know that?”
“Footprints at the scene clearly show the victim stood in one place while the killer—wearing high heels—circled her, yet there was no sign of coercion, no restraint, which means they stood and talked. Had the killer had something like a gun to force compliance, she would have used the weapon in her hand to kill, not gone looking for another one. I need to check my samples, but both had gravel in her shoes from the same place—Hyde Park, if I’m not mistaken—which means they traveled from the same place. Presumably the killer saw the victim with her lover and either followed her or arranged to meet her.”
“And you can tell this because of the gravel in her shoe? That is so COOL!”
Sherlock blinked at Chris’s enthusiasm. Usually only John showed this kind of delight at his deductions. “As I said, simply a matter of observing and thinking.”
He glanced over at John and saw him grinning at him. “The rules of Sherlock’s life,” he told his cousins.
Before Sherlock knew what was happening, he was at his microscope setting up slides to demonstrate the similarities in the two pieces of gravel. He was told he was “cool” five more times, “awesome” twice, and frankly got tired of hearing “wow.”
Maybe he had underestimated the value of adolescents.
Next up: John visits his Uncle James in hospital after his heart attack--this conversation's going to be ... interesting.
Chapter 10: A Beating Heart
John goes to visit his Uncle James in hospital after his heart attack.
John walked down the hallway and tried to remember the last time he had visited someone in hospital for something other than some kind of casualty of chasing criminals like a gunshot wound or professionally, as a doctor.
Today, though, he was here to check up on his Uncle James. He didn’t really want to. He didn’t like the man, and his uncle clearly felt even more strongly about John. After all, it was talking to John (attacking, really) that had caused his heart attack in the first place. But still, John couldn’t turn his back on a relative on whom he had personally performed CPR—no matter how he felt about him.
If he was being honest with himself, he would admit that he didn’t like him, either. His Uncle James was small-minded, pompous, and openly antagonistic toward him. John could forgive his uncle for not liking him. He could even understand it, since John had come from nowhere to ‘steal’ Ian’s money from the nephew James preferred.
The fact that said nephew was in prison for kidnapping and attempted murder was something James preferred to gloss over. And anyway, he seemed to feel that—if Andy wasn’t going to get Ian’s money—it should have gone to Ian’s ‘real’ family … a family which decidedly did not include his illegitimate son.
Little though he had seen of it in his life, John could understand family loyalty … except James went well beyond trying to protect his family. What irked John was that he was so obnoxious about it. And hypocritical. The money he was trying to protect wasn’t even his, after all. It was Ian’s, and his brother had worked hard for that wealth. So far as John was concerned, that meant Ian could distribute it as he liked. Nobody had the right to dictate to him—especially his brother.
Yet here he was, anyway. Visiting like any concerned relative (who’d had a hand in saving his life). He’d just make this as quick as possible. In and out. A polite glad-you’re-still-alive visit and then he was out of here.
He was rounding the corner to James’ room when he was almost bowled over by a person coming in the other direction. He grabbed at her arms to steady her as she said, “John! You’re here!”
“Gretchen, it’s good to see you again,” he said, recognizing his cousin’s girlfriend. “I gather if you’re here, that …”
“Mark finally told his father about us? Yes,” she told him happily. “Before the heart attack, mind you. He took it so much better than Mark thought he would. I think you helped there, actually.”
“Really?” John couldn’t keep the surprise from his face.
She grinned as she said, “I believe the exact quote was, ‘at least you’re really family and you’re not in jail.”
“Heart-warming,” John said, matching the grin. “But really, I’m happy for you.”
“Honestly, I think he was gratified that Mark reached out to him—so you did help. Which is good, because you should be happy, too. With Mark no longer worried about his father’s reaction, we’re moving out of your cottage.”
“Oh please, you probably just didn’t want to pay the rent,” John said, teasing. Really, though he was delighted. He had so liked what he’d seen of the house, it had been disappointing, not getting to stay there.
By Gretchen’s face, she knew what he was thinking. “Just don’t forget that mobile reception is dreadful. We were planning on being out by the end of the month, but now, with Mark’s father…” Her voice trailed off as she looked down the hallway.
“How is he this morning?” John asked. It was why he was here, after all.
“The doctors are very encouraging. Apparently,” she accented the word, “He received treatment so quickly at the scene, there wasn’t time for much damage.”
John nodded as he followed her down the hall. “Good, that’s good. I was worried.”
She leaned forward and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Go on in and see him.” Another smile and she turned back to head wherever she had been going. John smiled to himself, though. She obviously didn’t know that he’d all but caused the heart attack in the first place by getting into a fight with him. Well, if you could call it a fight when one man verbally attacks another with no provocation and then drops to the ground unconscious. A bit one-sided, really.
No, he really didn’t like his uncle very much, though it was good to hear he’d been generous with Mark. And it’s not like John had never visited people he didn’t like in hospital before. Checking the room number, John summoned up years of bedside experience, tapped on the door, and stepped inside. “Hello? How are you today?”
At first, it seemed like the room was crowded, but then he realized there were only three people other than himself and the doctor. He greeted his aunt and cousins, and nodded to the doctor. “I can come back, if you like.”
“No,” his Aunt Samantha insisted, “Please stay. It’s thanks to you he’s even here. Doctor, this is my nephew, Dr. John Watson. He’s the one who saved James’ life last night.”
“Dr. Watson? Pleased to meet you. Dr. Hubert. I was just telling your uncle that it’s thanks to your quick actions that the damage is so minor. Not that it wasn’t a significant event, of course, but unless the tests show any differently, we should be able to manage this with medication and proper diet and exercise.” He turned back to his patient. “If you don’t have any immediate questions, I’ll leave you to your visitors. I’ll be back later if you’ve thought of anything.”
He left the room to a murmur of thanks, and then John was left alone with his family. He had met his Aunt Samantha, of course, and Mark, but this was the first time meeting his other cousin, Joseph. He was about to introduce himself when his aunt was on her feet and then clinging to his neck. “Thank you so much, John. If you hadn’t been there … I can’t bear to think what might have happened.”
He patted her back awkwardly. “It’s okay. I’m glad I was there, too.” He met his uncle’s gaze over her shoulder and blinked, trying to identify the emotion he saw there.
Saving James’ life seemed to have endeared him to his aunt, though, and Mark was already there for a grateful handshake. “I saw Gretchen in the hall,” John told him. “Glad you’ve worked things out.”
“So are we. She told you about the house?” At John’s nod, he added, “She said it wasn’t right for us to stay there, all things considered. Have you met my brother Joseph?”
John shook this new cousin’s hand. Joseph looked to be around 30 and already had lines in his forehead and lips thinned from habitual tightening. He was going to look exactly like his father before he was 40. John gave a polite “Pleased to meet you,” though he could tell already this wasn’t going to be pleasing in any way.
“Indeed,” was the cool reply. “We are certainly very grateful.”
Oh sure, that sounded like real gratitude. “I was happy to help,” John told him politely, then turned to his uncle. “I’m glad to see you looking so well this morning.”
James’ lips tightened (the resemblance between him and his eldest son really was remarkable). “It was kind of you to visit,” he said. “And, er, I should thank you for your help last night.”
“I’m a doctor, Uncle James. It comes with the territory.” He shrugged, trying to look casual, as if saving lives was a daily occurrence.
James just looked at him as Samantha gushed again, and then his eyes narrowed. “I want a moment alone with John, please.” The words were polite, but the tone was an order, and John was impressed at how quickly the room cleared.
He stood his ground calmly, unfazed. After the army and the Holmes brothers (not to mention Moriarty), his uncle didn’t frighten him in the slightest, no matter how nastily he glared.
After a staring contest (flaring with dislike on one side, calm patience on the other), James finally said, “I don’t like you. And I don’t trust you at all.”
“Fair enough. I don’t like you, either. Though we barely know each other,” John said, voice calm.
“I still don’t believe my brother kept you a secret all these years. I find the timing of your … appearance … very suspicious.”
John stifled a laugh. “I’ll just remind you that I wasn’t the one who stepped forward. Andy’s the one who instigated all of this.” He saw the beginnings of bluster and held up his hand. “Remember where you are and mind your blood pressure. I’m not accusing him of anything. I’m just saying—I was as much in the dark in all of this as you were.”
Uncle James shook his head stubbornly. “I don’t believe you.”
“I can’t force you to. You can’t prove a negative, so I can’t prove that I didn’t know any of this until a month ago.” John sighed. He really didn’t want to get into this discussion again, but then, having just saved his life, he’d probably never have a better opportunity to make his case. “However, I’m telling you I did not, and considering how many people tell me that I’m a terrible liar, you’re going to have to believe me. I never knew about Ian and my Mum, and I certainly never wanted any of his money. I did not deliberately take any money from your children.”
“No, of course not.” James’ voice was sarcastic and angry again and his color rising. “You found out Holmes didn’t have as much money as you thought. You used Andy’s attack on your friend to convince Ian, somehow. I can’t believe any of this is true. It’s all your fault, somehow.”
John stepped forward, holding out a hand and trying to be soothing. “Breathe. Relax. You’re going to have another heart attack if you don’t calm down.
He looked back and forth between the monitors and his uncle’s face, but didn’t say anything until he was satisfied with what he saw. “I could say that I resent that insinuation about my motives and my character. I could even say your timing is less than ideal since I saved your life last night, but I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt. You haven’t had a chance to know me. You don’t know what kind of man I am—I could be as unprincipled as my brother, that nephew you seem to love so well.”
Eyes still on the older man’s face, he continued, “Believe me when I tell you that money has never been one of my primary motivations. As long as my basic needs are met, I’m happy. I’ve got—this is important, so pay attention, uncle—I’ve got more important things to worry about. I’ve been a soldier. I am a doctor. I help catch murderers on a weekly basis. I deal with life and death situations every day. As long as I don’t have bill collectors pestering me while I’m trying to relax during my precious few off-hours, I. Don’t. Care. About. Money.”
The older man stared at him, still obviously angry, but unable to find anything to object to. “You expect me to believe that? When you just came out of nowhere?”
John moved to the foot of the bed and glanced at his uncle’s chart as something to do. “Considering my press coverage these last five years or so, I don’t see how you could say I came from nowhere, Uncle James. Besides, you should count your blessings. Ian didn’t plan on telling anyone until he was dead. We all would have found out from the lawyers—and then we would all have had heart attacks.” He looked up with an encouraging, hospital-visitor smile. “You were lucky in yours, by the way. These numbers are excellent.”
James was still staring at him, but a lot of the heat had gone. “Why did you tell Mark to call me?”
John blinked. “Because it was the right thing to do, and because you’re his father. You have the right to know what’s going on in his life. He’s a grown man and he has the right to make his own decisions, mind you. You can disagree and fight about them, but you at least deserve to know.
He took a deep breath. “Believe me, Uncle James. Not even counting our own little family drama lately, I see the ill effects of keeping secrets every day. If I had known about Ian and my Mum when I was younger, things would have been very different with my Dad. I wish I’d known about this secret weighing him down. I also regret not having had a chance to know Ian better.”
The look on James’ face was still skeptical. “Naturally. And the money would have had nothing to do with it.”
John sighed again. “I told you, money is not important, Uncle James, but family is. Keeping faith with the people who care about you is. Secrets hurt—believe me, I know that better than anyone.”
His uncle was considering him, and for the first time, John saw thoughtfulness there, rather than anger. “You’re talking about Sherlock Holmes now, aren’t you?”
“When I heard about Andy kidnapping him—before I had heard about Ian’s will—I looked him up, you know, trying to figure out why Andy would attack him and that other woman, your sister. It made no sense to me. But when I heard from the lawyers that you were the intended target, and why, it made sense to me. As much as I love him, Andy’s never been rational when he’s felt threatened. In that way, he takes more after me than he ever did with Ian.”
John watched his uncle. That was probably the closest he was ever going to come to an acknowledgment of recent events, much less an apology. “Understood,” he said. “Anyway, I’m glad you’re talking to Mark again. He and Gretchen seemed quite nice when we met them.”
“You didn’t kick them out of the house,” James said. “Why?”
John just smiled. “I may not have grown up in the most stable home, Uncle James, but even I know how you treat family.”
“I still don’t like you,” his uncle finally said, “But I appreciate what you did for my son.”
“I don’t like you either,” John told him. “But I’m glad you’re still breathing.”
He gave him another nod and then left the room, pausing briefly in the hallway to exchange niceties with his aunt and cousins. He had no doubt this moment of mutual accord would be short-lived. His cousin Joseph was obviously just a younger version of his uncle’s worst faults, and that was obviously going to make things difficult. But still—he was glad he had come.
His phone beeped.
--Have you changed your mind and killed your uncle yet? SH
John chuckled, and sent back.
--No, he’ll live to see another day.
--Don’t tell me he apologized? SH
--Not exactly, but he’s talking to Mark again. M & G are moving out of the cottage by the end of the month.
--Didn’t want to pay the rent? SH
--That’s what I said. Home soon.
--Good. We need milk.
John pocketed his phone and smiled. He wondered if he could convince Sherlock on another road trip in a few weeks. But for now, things were good.
Chapter 11: Schooldays
Because, once upon a time, Sherlock was in school with the Littleston boys.
Hoping to get to the chemistry lab before the professor left for lunch, Sherlock breezed around the corner. He wanted to check his experiment on alkaloids and blood stains and he only had half an hour before his next class. Not that he cared about anything as mundane as being on time to a class, but he’d been sternly informed that any more tardiness would result in losing lab privilege. It simply wasn’t worth the risk. The chemistry lab was the only thing interesting in the entire school.
He was in such a rush, he didn’t see the younger boy until he’d knocked him down, books flying. He blinked at the boy. “You should really watch where you’re going.”
“Me? You’re the one who came around the corner at a hundred miles an hour,” the child protested. He struggled to sit up and looked at the books and papers strewn around him. He stifled a curse and reached for the nearest book.
Sherlock watched for a moment, noting the stiffness as the boy moved. His face looked tight, too, as if he were in a bad mood. He probably was, considered Sherlock, as the thought occurred that he should probably apologize. That seemed extreme, though. The collision had been the boy’s fault as much as his, but still … he had landed rather hard on the pavement and his possessions were scattered fairly widely.
Nodding to himself, he bent down and helped collect the papers. “You need a better bag,” he said helpfully.
He was surprised with the boy snapped, “I need berks like you to watch where you’re going. Why aren’t you in the dining hall like everybody else?”
Sherlock blinked, feeling even less inclined to help. People tried to tell him that he was rude? He glanced down at the fistful of papers and blinked again as the boy tore them out of his hand.
“Give me those. They’re mine!”
“Really?” Sherlock couldn’t keep the sneer out of his voice. He didn’t think much of his fellow students to begin with, but this child was a particularly nasty specimen. “You’re doing very advanced work for your age, then. That looked like the answers to a 6th form exam.”
The boy was shoving his papers back into his bag. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. Just … leave me alone.”
Sherlock sat back on his heels, watching the boy’s face. Curious. “Why would it matter that I wasn’t in the dining hall? Ah. Because I was heading toward the classrooms, and you were doing something there you didn’t want seen. Like, say, stealing answers to an exam? Why?”
“It’s none of your business.” The boy struggled to his feet, clutching his overflowing bag to his chest as if he expected Sherlock to take it away. “Just leave me alone.”
“But why would you be stealing answers to tests you’re not even taking? Oh, of course. You’re selling them. You want to be popular with the older boys—or, no, you’re just tired of being picked on and think this will win you favor. Except it won’t help, because it won’t alleviate the sheer noxiousness of your personality, which is the reason you bully the younger students in your turn.”
“I said, leave me alone!” The boy looked frantically from side to side, wanting to escape, but apparently afraid to leave Sherlock with the knowledge of the stolen exam.
Another voice rang down the hallway, followed by hurrying footsteps. “Hey! What are you doing to my brother?”
“Geoffrey.” The younger boy turned in relief, though Sherlock caught a gleam of mischief (?) in his eyes as he whined, “Make him stop.”
Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Really? Hiding behind your big brother? Pathetic.”
That was definitely mischief Sherlock saw in the small boy’s eyes as he cried, “Geoffrey, he knocked me over! And I wasn’t doing anything but walking, honest!”
Geoffrey skidded to a stop, placing himself between Sherlock and his brother. “What are you doing, picking on him? Don’t you have better things to do?”
Sherlock raised his eyebrows in the casual way he was learning infuriated people. “In fact, I do. I was on the way to the chemistry lab when your brother and I ran into each other—literally.” He looked down at the younger boy, taking advantage of his height. “You might want to ask him what he was doing in the classrooms during lunch, and why he’s got copies of exams in his bag, but that’s really your concern. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got an experiment to check on.”
He swept past the two boys, sparing a triumphant look at the younger boy as his brother rounded on him. “Andy, what were you doing? You know what the headmaster said!”
“But, Geoffrey,” Andy’s voice whined down the hallway, “It’s the only way I can stop them picking on me.”
Sherlock smiled to himself as he rounded the last corner, already thinking ahead to his experiment. He couldn’t wait until this term was over and he wouldn’t have to be bothered by those annoying first years any longer. Though that one seemed less savory than most—clearly manipulative, self-serving, and eager to hide behind his big brother.
Chapter 12: Hospital Visits
John gets wounded on a case and suddenly hordes of Littlestons are coming to visit.
“This is exactly why I keep telling you to be more careful.”
John gave a faint smile and tried not to laugh. “Right. I should follow your example.”
“I’m not the one in a hospital bed, John.”
Sherlock’s tone was dry, slightly accusatory, but John was having none of it. “No, and it makes a pleasant change. Usually you’re the one in the bed and I’m the one hovering anxiously. This is almost relaxing for once.”
“Don’t be silly, John. It’s your job to hover over patients. I, however, am not in the medical field and it’s really irresponsible of you to put me in this position.”
This time John couldn’t help the chuckle, though he immediately winced. “Ow. I don’t know which is more painful—the thought of you being a doctor or me being stupid enough to laugh about it when I’ve just been shot.”
Sherlock sniffed as he helped raise the bed to a more comfortable position. “The latter, obviously, except the stupidity was in getting shot in the first place. I thought we’d discussed that.”
“Better I get a minor wound in my side than you getting a bullet straight through the head, Sherlock, which is what was about to happen.”
“You’re exaggerating.” Sherlock told him firmly. “And besides, anything that requires three hours of surgery can hardly be considered minor.”
“It’s still minor compared to you being dead, so I’m not complaining.”
Sherlock was just opening his mouth to reply when there was a tap at the door.
“Uncle John?” Both men turned to see Holly at the door, flanked by her parents. She was carrying a flower arrangement but looked embarrassed. “Is this a bad time?”
John smiled at her. “No, this is excellent. It’s always good timing if you can head off one of Sherlock’s rants. How are you, Holly?”
She stepped into the room, uncertain. “Aren’t I meant to be asking you that?”
“My mistake. I’m fine, thank you.” He looked past her, “Meredith. David. It’s good to see you both again.”
Holly’s mother gave her own polite smile. “We’d been hoping to see you again since mother’s birthday, but not like this.”
“I was so upset when I heard you’d been shot, Uncle John,” Holly told him, a sudden glint of tears in her eyes as she put the flowers down on the bedside table.
“It’s okay, Holly. I’m fine, really.”
“Yes, he’s all too experienced with this kind of thing,” Sherlock said. “This is, what, the fourth time you’ve been shot, John? The hospital staff knows you by name at this point.”
John saw Holly’s eyes widen and snapped, “They know me by name because I work here, Sherlock. Stop scaring Holly.”
“You’ve been shot before?” Her voice was small.
“In Afghanistan. It’s why I’m not in the army anymore. But really, this is nothing to worry about. Trust me, I’m a doctor.” Sherlock made a rude noise but subsided when John glared at him. The five of them sat in uncomfortable silence for a few minutes, then there was another tap at the door.
It was his least favorite of his new relatives—Uncle James and Aunt Samantha. John groaned and immediately tried to pretend it was because of the hole in his side, but Holly rolled her eyes at him, feeling the same way. Sherlock just eyed the newcomers and mumbled something John didn’t catch but was afraid he knew the gist of anyway.
This certainly was a new experience for him. He’d been in hospital any number of times before but couldn’t remember the last time he’d had any visitors other than Mycroft or a member of the police force. (Sherlock, of course, didn’t count as a visitor. More a petulant, unmovable object.) Harry had rarely ever deigned to visit.
“Uncle James. How nice,” he murmured.
His uncle looked uncomfortable, too. The two of them may have come to an accord, but that didn’t mean they liked each other. “John,” he finally said. “You’re looking, er …”
“Like I’ve just been shot?” John asked, amused. “It’s okay. You can say it. You wouldn’t want to set a poor example for Holly here and lie, would you?” He caught Holly’s eyes, twinkling now with amusement rather than gleaming with tears.
“Of course not. I just meant … you’re looking well, considering.” James bumbled off into silence and then asked, “Did they catch the man who did this? It’s disgraceful, how many shootings we hear about these days. You’d think gun control laws didn’t exist.”
John coughed and made a face at the twinge in his side as Sherlock snorted in amusement and said, “Yes, John has quite strong opinions about illegal guns. In this case, though, John was the one to catch the shooter.”
John looked confused. “No I didn’t, Sherlock. You did.”
Sherlock shook his head, face serious. “No, you pushed me out of the way quite vigorously. I was still on the ground when you tackled the shooter and got yourself shot, but you managed to hold him long enough for me to restrain him before succumbing to your injury. The police, of course, were nowhere in sight until it was all over.”
“And by ‘hold’ you mean passed out on top of him? Huh. I don’t actually remember that at all,” John said, biting his lip. “Nothing after knocking you out of the way.”
“Out of the way of what?” Another voice spoke from the hallway. John turned his head and stifled another groan. His very enthusiastic young cousins, Chris and Charles, were poised in the doorway.
“What are you two doing here?” Holly asked, looking surprised. “I don’t think you’ve ever visited a sick relative in your life.”
Uncle James huffed. “They certainly didn’t visit me when I had my heart attack.”
The boys’ mother looked embarrassed. “It’s not that they didn’t want to, Uncle James.”
Sherlock made a rude noise. “Of course they didn’t want to. Visiting the infirm is always either insufferably dull or far too emotional. They’re only here today because it’s John and because he was shot which seems much more exciting than something routine like a heart attack.”
The teenagers tried to look insulted, but it didn’t convince anybody. John stifled another laugh at their expressions—his injury really didn’t like it when he laughed. “It’s really not as exciting as it sounds, trust me.”
“You should know, John,” said Sherlock.
John just gave him a quelling look, but the boys picked up on it and clamored to know what he meant. It was Holly who told them it was John’s fourth shooting. Predictably, the boys both breathed long “Cooool”s while the adults looked scandalized, appalled, or horrified.
“Let’s just blame the Taliban for that and move on, shall we?” John said wearily.
He really was tired, and with eight Littlestons in the room, John’s energy was dwindling quickly. It was like that Marx Brothers bit with dozens of people crowding into a hotel room, except this really wasn’t all that entertaining. Would it be rude to tell them that he was tired? It’s not like it was a lie, though at the moment he was more tired of them than actually tired.
He made small talk for a while, but could tell that Sherlock was keeping a close eye on him and before long the detective was on his feet and chivvying people out the door, talking about visiting hours and not tiring the patient. John was bemused by his efficiency and barely had a chance to say goodbye to Holly or any of the others before Sherlock had them in the hallway looking stunned.
John just shook his head, when Sherlock came back, muttering about people with no consideration and didn’t they know they shouldn’t tire a patient, what was the hospital thinking? “Because you pay such close attention to visiting restrictions yourself,” John said, voice creaking a bit in his too-dry throat.
Sherlock handed him a cup of water. “Don’t be silly, John. The only person I ever visit in hospital is you.”
John gave a weary smile, his fatigue and the good drugs starting to take their toll. “That still counts as visiting, Sherlock, which means the restrictions still apply.”
“Nonsense,” Sherlock said, leaning forward to tilt John’s bed back again and then sitting in his chair. “Like I would let you go through this alone. After all, you claim to have saved my life last night. I’d hate to seem ungrateful.”
John’s eyes were closed now. “I did save your life,” he managed just as he tilted over the edge into sleep.
He barely heard the soft voice reply, “Oh, you did, John. More than you know,” as a gentle hand brushed his forehead and sleep claimed him.
Chapter 13: Sick Leave
John and Sherlock return to the cottage while John recovers from his bullet wound.
“John, we’re here.”
John opened his eyes and looked up at the cottage with a sigh. It had been months since he’d seen it and there had been a lot of changes. Instead of a bright, Spring day and a garden bursting with flowers and happy bees, it looked dull, layered in monochrome in the rainy, autumn weather.
It suited his mood, though, because that was the way he felt—flat and gray. He had been shot before, but for some reason, it was taking longer to recover from this one. He supposed he wasn’t as young as he used to be.
The idea of recuperating at his Sussex cottage had sounded perfect when Sherlock proposed it yesterday. He hadn’t taken the change of season into consideration, though, and all things considered, he should have expected the cold, damp day. He wondered how efficient the heating was, and if there was wood for the fireplace he remembered. He hoped Sherlock or Mrs. Hudson had packed his warm jumpers and wondered if leaving straight from the hospital was such a good idea.
Still, he thought, he was out of hospital and had gotten a nap on the way out of the city. He pushed open his door and pulled himself to his feet as Sherlock moved to the boot for the luggage. “Let’s hope there aren’t any surprise guests this time,” John said as he found his balance, trying to maneuver around the knot of pain in his side.
He heard Sherlock chuckle. “I believe Mycroft checked for us and laid in supplies.”
John lifted his eyebrows. Sherlock was far more willing to accept Mycroft’s help these days, but it was still a surprise to hear him refer to it without any rancor in his voice. “I’m relieved to know we won’t need to go grocery shopping on our first day,” was all he said.
“As if I’d let you.” Sherlock was at his side now, arms full of bags but waiting for him to go first. They’d had far too much experience in helping each other recover from various injuries and illnesses over the years, but Sherlock’s care never failed to surprise him. He might be the only person on the planet to benefit from Sherlock’s human, nurturing side, and that single fact still awed him.
“You’re just relieved because at the speed I’m walking, it would take us four hours to round the shop,” John told him. “Your patience would never stand it.”
“Don’t be silly, John. I’d put you in a trolley and let you ride.” Sherlock reached into his pocket and pulled out the house key which he handed to John. “The door should be locked this time. Here, you do the honors.”
John shuffled carefully to the door and opened it, expecting to see a dark, damp room with dust covers on the furniture.
He was pleasantly surprised, though. The room was airy and dust-free, with a low fire burning in the grate. There were fresh flowers on the table and he felt his shoulders relax as he stepped into the room, feeling unexpectedly welcomed. He needed to forcibly remind himself that the cottage was his.
He stepped to the side so Sherlock could manhandle the bags through the door and then shut it behind them as Sherlock gave the room a quick, approving glance. “Anthea is obviously on top of things, today. I’ll bring the bags upstairs and then … tea?”
John nodded and reached to work his coat from his shoulders, politely ignoring the aborted move to help from his friend. He might indeed be the only person on the planet that Sherlock Holmes was willing to take care of, but the man made up for it by being over-protective when John was hurt or ill. It had taken them some time to work out the correct balance between helping and smothering, because John was fiercely independent, even when circumstances forced him to rely on Sherlock.
To that end, he did his part by stepping out of the way without protest, but instead of just sitting on the couch (appealing though it looked), he made his careful way down the hallway to the kitchen. If there was one thing he provided this team, it was his unparalleled tea-making abilities. Sherlock could, technically, make tea these days, but it wasn’t the same. Besides, it made John feel useful.
There was a carton of groceries on the counter in the kitchen. He glanced inside—bread, tea, tinned soup, beans, pasta, Hobnobs. Nothing beyond their cooking abilities. He grabbed the box of tea (English Breakfast, a nice step up from the usual PG Tips) and carried it to the kettle and only then thought to wonder if they had cups. Had the ones here belonged to Ian or to Mark? Reaching carefully, he opened the cabinet and saw with relief that it was full of basic dishware, though the mugs were on the second shelf. Sherlock would just scold him if he stretched to reach them, he thought with an affectionate smile, and so he turned and filled the kettle and set it to boil.
Checking the refrigerator, he laughed. Somebody had a sense of humor and knew that Sherlock and John were perpetually short of milk. One entire shelf was full of shelf-stable boxes of milk so that there would be plenty, but they wouldn’t need to worry about it going bad.
He was still chuckling about it when Sherlock swept into the kitchen, noting the open cabinet with the too-high mugs and giving John a glance of approval for not having tried to reach them. “We’ve got plenty of milk,” John greeted him, and watched Sherlock’s lips twitch when he checked. “How’s the upstairs look?”
“Plenty of towels, fresh linens on the beds, and your room has flowers,” Sherlock said as he handed the cups to John.
“Well, Anthea always liked me best,” John said as he cautiously poured water into the mugs. (Even half-filled, the kettle felt heavy with this hole in his side, and he could feel his stitches straining.)
“Don’t be silly, John, she doesn’t even know your name between kidnappings.”
“I’m hurt, Sherlock, really. By sheer repetition—not to mention my boyish charm—I’ve managed to make an impression. She actually called me Dr. Watson last time.”
“Hardly the level of acquaintance that would lead to flowers,” Sherlock said with a sniff. “No, in this case, the floral offering was from Mycroft.”
John turned his head so quickly, he was forced to put his hand out to steady himself. “Mycroft?” he asked in disbelief. “Now that’s a frightening thought.”
Sherlock’s eyes gleamed with amusement, though John caught the flash of concern at his momentary unsteadiness. “Something about gratitude for saving my life again, I expect.”
John turned back to the tea. “Clearly I should get injured in the line of duty more often, then.”
“Don’t you dare,” Sherlock said, suddenly at his side and holding out a carton of milk. He waited while John prepared both mugs and then lifted them and nodded toward the sitting room. “That fire looked too good to waste on a brisk day.”
John smiled and put the milk back in the refrigerator before following him down the hall. Sherlock was right, of course, and the sitting room was inviting with its cheerful paper and soft, welcoming furniture. He eased himself down on the couch and picked up his tea, happy to just sit in a room that was very much not a hospital. He promised himself that he would check the books on the shelves later, but for right now, he was content to be doing nothing.
“Oh, your medicine,” Sherlock said suddenly, reaching into his pocket and handing John a bottle.
John forced down two pills and then swallowed a sip of too-hot tea as he watched his friend settle in his chair. “You’re going to be bored,” he said after a minute.
“No, I won’t,” Sherlock told him, picking up his laptop. “Plenty to do, especially once you’re on your feet again.”
“I thought Mark said there was no internet connection out here?”
Sherlock didn’t bother to look up from the screen. He just said, “Mycroft,” and John huffed a small laugh. “I shouldn’t have even asked.”
He took another sip of tea and then toed off his shoes and turned lengthwise on the couch with a contented sigh. After a bit, he carefully put the half-full mug down on the floor next to him and closed his eyes. It was the last thing he knew for hours.
When he woke up, the light coming in the windows had completely disappeared and the fire was down to embers. There was a table lamp lit in the corner of the room and a knitted rug draped over him. He pushed himself to a sitting position, wondering how long he had slept. He’d lost track of time, but the clock on the mantle read 7:10, so that was at least four hours. His bad shoulder was a bit stiff—nothing new there—but the pain in his side had dulled down to a manageable ache.
He was just about to get up when Sherlock leaned in the door. “Ah, you’re awake. Feeling better?”
“Much. What have you been up to?”
“Reading, mostly. And exploring Mark’s collection of take-away menus.”
“Oh, thank God,” John said. “If we needed to rely on our own cooking, we’d probably die.”
A brief smile. “True, though you make a good risotto.” Sherlock was studying him, no doubt observing everything from his new wrinkles to his skin color to how rested his eyes looked, but John didn’t mind. This, he was used to. He asked about the house. “It seems in excellent condition. Mark and Gretchen took care of it, and there are sufficient basics like dishes and linens. There’s a telly, too, over the fireplace if you hadn’t noticed. It’ll be good to get out of the city.”
John shook his head. “It never fails to surprise me when you say that. I know you grew up in the country, but part of me still insists that you belong in London.”
Sherlock’s eyes warmed. “Normally, yes, I need London’s stimulation, but there’s something soothing about the country. Its rhythm feels right for recuperation—it’ll be good for both of us to be away from the city until you’re well again. Fewer distractions to tempt you to over-do.”
“You mean, like last time when you were practically climbing the walls out of boredom within 48 hours of that knife wound?”
“Exactly. If we had been outside the city limits, I would no doubt have been much more relaxed.”
John laughed the small laugh that didn’t jar his stitches too much. “You couldn’t have told me that then?”
“Now, John, where would be the fun in that? Watching you try to keep your temper was very entertaining.”
From long experience, John knew when it was time to drop a conversation. “So … dinner?”
“Already taken care of, “Sherlock told him. “In fact, I was coming to wake you. I’m surprised you can’t smell it.”
John sniffed the air, suddenly aware that it was laden with something delectable, something with tomato and oregano? “I don’t remember seeing a masterpiece in that box.”
“Ah, you neglected to look in the freezer,” Sherlock said, offering a hand to help him up. “There are some quite good frozen meals in there.”
“See? I told you Anthea liked me best,” John said as they walked into the kitchen.
Later, he settled into his bed and nestled into the crisp sheets with their cheerful flowers and looked around the bedroom with a contented sigh. Dreary weather or not, coming here had been a good decision, he thought. The cottage was a delight and he felt more relaxed than he had in weeks—since well before the actual shooting. He really needed to remember that a holiday was a good idea now and again. It would just be nice to take one without starting with an illness or injury for a change.
He could hear Sherlock settling in on the other side of the wall and smiled to himself, thinking about the casual yet careful nursing he had had today. It was a side to Sherlock nobody else saw. He always felt honored that, if Sherlock was going to have only one friend, it was him.
What had Sherlock told him that one time? That he hoped to retire to the country and keep bees some day? John thought about the flowering gardens he’d seen last time and smiled. Maybe they could actually settle here someday—some far, distant day when they weren’t quite so fast chasing criminals. They couldn’t continue this endless round of chase-injury-heal-chase-injury-heal indefinitely. Someday, retiring to this lovely little cottage Ian had so graciously given him might be ideal. Someday.
And in the morning, when he woke to sun streaming in the windows and a side with less pain than he’d felt in two weeks, he smiled. In the meantime, Someday was well worth visiting.
Chapter 14: It's a Crime
The young Littlestons show up at a crime scene to gawk so that Lestrade has to call John to talk reason to them.
John had just returned to his surprisingly empty flat and was putting the groceries in the kitchen when the phone rang. He didn’t even have his coat off yet, he thought as he answered it, then felt guilty because even through the phone, he could hear the stress in Greg’s voice. “What did Sherlock do now?”
“Surprisingly enough, it’s not him, mate, but you’ve got to get down here right away.”
John grabbed the milk and practically flung it into the refrigerator, already heading for the door, leaving the rest of the bags on the counter. “Why? What’s going on? What happened? It’s not Harry, is it?”
“No, nothing like that,” Greg said quickly. “But apparently you’ve got a fan club, and they’re mucking up my crime scene.”
“Just get here.”
John stared at the phone in his hand. The last time he had heard Greg sounding so harried had been when Sherlock insisted on questioning every witness to a homicide—which had taken place at a club for transvestites. (It had turned out to be an open-and-shut case, but Sherlock couldn’t resist the chance to study so many cross-dressers in one place. Greg had been livid.)
He hailed a cab the minute he got down the stairs—this obviously was not the time to mess with the public transportation system. What had Greg meant by fan club? And—Sherlock was not involved? Remembering what Sherlock always said about not speculating until you had data, he tried not to fret, but the drive still seemed endless.
He had the driver drop him a block away from the crime scene. He could see the familiar tape and flashing lights down the road and decided it would be best to approach discreetly. It didn’t seem overly chaotic, he thought, and then wondered when he had become an expert on crime scene activity. There was a reasonable bustle behind the tape, but nobody looked rushed or traumatized. It all looked fairly routine—not something that would bring that note of desperation into Greg’s seasoned voice.
There were spectators gathered, as always. The English might be strong advocates of the stiff upper lip school of overlooking disaster like a bachelor uncle looks past the heads of his young nephews at dinner, but human nature still drew them in to witness the disasters. He eyed them as he approached, but there were no more than usual.
John approached the constable at the barrier. “John Watson. Detective Inspector Lestrade called me.”
The young man immediately raised the tape. “Oh yes, Dr. Watson. You’d best hurry, he’s been asking for you.”
John nodded as he ducked under the tape. He was so busy wondering what could have Greg so worked up, he didn’t notice the surge in noise from the spectators. Following the constable’s instructions, he headed toward the scene. Everything looked calm enough to him. He had just caught a glimpse of a tall, familiar figure in a dark coat when he heard his name. “John, about time. Thanks for coming.”
“Greg. What’s the trouble? It looks like you’ve got everything under control.” John looked at the dead body crumpled by the alley wall. Everything seemed routine—inasmuch as a murder scene could ever actually be routine.
“Yeah, the murder’s not the problem,” Greg told him, fingers flexing as if he was restraining himself from running them through his hair—or punching someone. “The problem is with them.”
He pointed past John’s shoulder. John turned to look and groaned. “What are they doing here?”
“Exactly my question, John. Sherlock swears they didn’t come with him, but he seems just a little too pleased to have them here for me to believe him.”
“And he hasn’t exactly been eager to send them on their way, I’ll bet,” John said. “Right. I’ll see to it.”
“Good, because this isn’t exactly the cinema over here. We’re not here for their entertainment. I’d send them on their way with a bug in their ear but, well …”
“Since they’re related to me, you want me to do your dirty work for you,” John finished for him with a resigned smile. “Don’t worry. I’ll do my best. Go back to your boring crime scene.”
He got a clap on the shoulder for that (the bad one, worse luck), and he rubbed it absently as he walked to the corner Greg had indicated. “Well, boys, what have you got to say for yourself?”
Charles had the decency to look ashamed, but Chris’s face was alight with enthusiasm. “We wanted to see what a crime scene was really like, Uncle John. We want to help.”
John leveled his best Army Captain look at the eager teenager, refusing to feel guilty as the youngster’s enthusiasm wilted before his eyes. “What makes you think Scotland Yard needs your help?”
“Well,” the boy said, defiant, “Sherlock says they need help all the time.”
John wanted to close his eyes, but kept his face still. “Sherlock thinks everybody needs his help, boys, whether it’s true or not. And he means his help, not yours. Neither of you should be anywhere near a crime scene, even as spectators. Do you know what your parents would say, if they knew?”
“But, Uncle John, it’s not like we can see anything. They won’t let us anywhere near the body. We’re just watching the police. We’re not in the way,” said Charles.
“It’s not like we’re babies, after all,” added Chris.
“Yet, in many ways you are. Believe me, there is a difference between seeing dead bodies on telly and seeing them in real life. It is NOT the same thing. You are in no way prepared for this and should not be here.”
“But how else can we learn?”
“Learn what?” John asked, clinging to his patience.
“About death. How to help.” Chris’s face was alight again. “It’s not our fault that we’re young. It doesn’t mean we’re stupid.”
John badly wanted to disagree but Charles was nodding now, just as earnestly. “All our friends play those video games and think it’s so cool when they kill people, but we know it’s not funny, it’s not a game, because of you. You and Sherlock You both know that death isn’t a game and we wanted to show our friends that—even if the games are fun, that doesn’t make them right.”
John took another look at the spectators, only now realizing that a disproportionate number of them were teenage boys, all of whom were looking at him. “You mean to tell me you not only showed up at a crime scene yourselves, but you brought friends? How did you even know about it?”
“Oh, that was Sherlock. He told us that …”
But John had already snapped, “Wait here,” and strode off to find his flatmate. It wasn’t hard, Sherlock was standing near the corner, watching, and was ready for him when John stormed up to him. “I can explain, John.”
“I certainly hope so. What were you thinking, Sherlock?”
“Do you know how much your cousins admire you, John?”
That wasn’t the opening he was expecting. He’d expected Sherlock to be defensive, or to spout some deluded theory about family connections, but this threw him off guard. “I … what?”
“They admire you greatly. You’re a war hero to begin with, and since they’ve known you, you’ve disarmed a man holding a knife to your throat right in front of them and been shot saving my life. They’d be fools not to admire you for that.” Sherlock’s eyes were serious, but John was having trouble processing this. Compliments from Sherlock?
“Well … okay. Thanks for that. But what does that have to do with them being at a crime scene?”
“Because like any teenage boys, your young cousins are blood-thirsty monsters, John. Their level of hero worship is growing alarmingly fast, and while I admire their taste, I know how foolish teenagers can be. They’ve been asking more and more questions about what we do, how we solve crimes, and I believe the next step would lead to them trying it on their own.”
John glanced at the avid faces behind him. Sherlock might have a point.
He pulled a quick breath through his nose and tried to remember when he was their age and convinced that he knew everything. He reminded himself of all the young men he’d known in Afghanistan—men not much older than these two—who were so convinced they were invincible but never made it home, no matter how hard he tried to save them. He reminded himself that youthful arrogance came with a price that was too easily spent in ignorance.
“So, you brought them along to see that death is serious business?”
“More or less.” Sherlock gestured behind him. “It’s a pedestrian crime, really, just a mugging gone bad. Very little blood, nothing gruesome, but that’s what makes it educational, don’t you think?”
“Sherlock.” John tried to find the right words. “I’m not saying you’re entirely wrong, but this is a crime scene, not an educational experience.”
“Why can’t it be both?”
John couldn’t help the bark of laughter. “Well, for one thing, Greg will never let that happen. And for another,” he looked back at the crowd behind the barricade, “That’s a whole class trip back there. If it were just Chris and Charles, we might manage something, but … Christ, Sherlock….”
“I confess, I hadn’t expected them to bring friends,” Sherlock admitted.
“And you haven’t explained any of this to Greg?”
“I thought it best coming from you. He never seems to take my suggestions very well.”
Another laugh. “That’s because you present them as orders, idiot.” John drew in another breath and went looking for Greg.
It’s lucky for all of them that this is such a boring crime scene, because finding Greg was easy and he was as bored (and therefore not rushed, stressed, or irate) as one could hope for this conversation. “Hey, Greg.”
“Got them sorted out, then? I couldn’t ask Sherlock because, well, you know how he is.”
John rubbed the back of his neck and tried not to look over his shoulder. “Yeah, I do. But, er, here’s the thing….”
Greg’s easy grin slid off his face. “I’m not going to like this, am I?”
“Probably not, but hear me out?” John waited for Greg’s nod and then flung himself into his explanation—crazy teenagers, want to help, stupid enough to get into trouble, never seen real death before, accident waiting to happen—the works. “I know it’s crazy, but, well … consider that they’ve been exposed to the lunacy that is Sherlock Holmes and this could be the vaccine that saves their lives and keeps their parents from killing me.”
Greg just stared at him and John held his breath. He knew this was insane. He knew the parents would never approve—and heaven help him when they found out—but if this helped those stupid kids from being actually, criminally, fatally stupid, it was worth it, wasn’t it?
Finally, Greg said, “I’m not, absolutely not, letting those kids onto the scene to see a dead body. It’s not happening. Do you know how many ways I could get my ass sued for something like that? It’s just not going to happen.”
He glanced past John’s shoulder and said, “But what I will do … and heaven help me … is let those kids on the scene after everything else is done. When the body’s gone, when we’re done collecting evidence, when there’s basically nothing left to see, you and Sherlock can play tour guide and point out all the stupid things that poor bastard did and how none of it was his fault for getting in the way of a mugging. Meanwhile, those kids can stand to the side and watch us work. They can see the body being carted to the ambulance, and if Constable Harris feels so inclined, he can explain to them what we’re doing. But they’re not getting past that barricade, do you hear me?”
“Seems more than generous to me,” John told him. “I’m particularly fond of the part where this is likely to save my neck, too, when the parents find out.”
“Afraid of angry parents? And you a soldier,” Greg said, teasing.
“An enemy with a gun, a madman with a bomb—those I can handle. Hysterical parents? Totally another story,” John said with a grin. “How about a crime scene photo? Nothing gory, just a visual aid to go with the lecture for the class?”
It went as Greg suggested. The boys were grouped to one side of the crime tape while Sherlock explained how careless the victim had been and all the mistakes the killer had made. John tried to temper the rising enthusiasm (because the teenagers naturally all thought they were much smarter than the killer) by pointing out how abrupt and vicious the violence was, how the victim hadn’t done anything truly wrong other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It was hard, of course, to impress on invincible teenagers with their raging testosterone that it wasn’t good to put yourself in danger, even for the greater good. It was particularly hard because, going by that argument, John and Sherlock didn’t have a leg to stand on. “You do it all the time!”
“We do,” said John quickly, before Sherlock could open his mouth. “And we’re damn lucky. We’ve both been nearly killed more times than I like to think and it’s only through luck that we’re not actually dead.”
“But, you were in the army, Uncle John. And Sherlock is brilliant. It can’t all be luck!” Christ protested.
“No,” Sherlock agreed with him, “A lot of it was skill and training. You can’t rely on luck, but you can never assume that the criminals will always be stupider than you, or that they don’t sometimes have good luck, too.”
John pulled his mouth shut with an effort. Was Sherlock admitting to a weakness, there? Or, no, he was just admitting to everyone else’s weakness. This little life lesson was his idea, after all, and John had to admit he was doing his best to sell it. “Every officer here knows that they could be killed on the job,” John told the boys. “We all do. We’re smart, we’re trained, we take every precaution, but all it takes is one mistake and any of us could be dead. If you truly want to help, do it right—become a policeman or a fireman, or join the army—but don’t put yourself in danger without training, without backup. Not ever unless you truly have no choice.
John looked back at the crime scene, where the activity was coming to a close. “We see dead bodies every day. People who did nothing wrong. Or people who were trying to do the right thing—like Officer Adams last month. He died trying to save a woman from a mugging, and even though he was smart and prepared, the mugger got lucky and Adams died. He was only 23, which isn’t really that much older than you lot.”
The boys’ enthusiasm had muted now and John pointed out what some of the other officers were doing, and why it was important. He pointed out the photographer and the constables keeping people away, keeping them safe. And when the coroner wheeled the body out on its covered gurney, the boys frankly stared.
Except, this time, it wasn’t ghoulish, it wasn’t eager. It was respectful.
Sherlock gave the tour of the crime scene when the Met was done. By then, there was nothing much to see, but he explained how the blind alley had worked in favor of the killer, how the victim had only needed to make one mistake to be caught, but had in fact made several. John could see the boys thinking that they would have made some of the same decisions, and was thankful for the sober faces when they were done.
All the boys thanked them when they left, and Chris made a point to tell John, “I’m going to be a detective when I grow up, so I can do what you and Sherlock and the police do. Because, you’re right—you have to be smart, and I am smart. Even I can see how important it is to not to do this alone. That’s why you two have each other, right?”
“Right,” said John after a moment. “Now, go catch up, and try not to tell your mother anything that’s going to get me killed, all right?”
He watched him run off and then turned to Sherlock. “You think it helped?”
“Of course it did, John. We’re the cool relatives, remember?”
Chapter 15: Charity Begins at Home
The same charity event the next year, only this time, so far as anybody knows, John is flat broke again. This could be interesting... except, moral support comes from an unexpected quarter.
John brushed at his suit nervously. There was no way he could skip tonight’s fundraiser for Ian’s “Money from a Stone” charity, but he dreaded going.
It was a completely different kind of dread from last year. Then, he was self-conscious because his relationship with Ian was still so unexpected and charity events weren’t exactly his thing. Facing down his uncle in the middle of the room and goading him (entirely unintentionally) into a heart attack had pretty much capped off a perfectly uncomfortable evening.
This year, though, things were different. To the knowledge of everybody there, he, John Watson, was poor again. Or at least, no longer wealthy. So far as the world knew, he had given up his inheritance to save the life of his best friend. He was fine with that (it made life so much easier), but still … it was going to make conversation even more awkward than usual in a room filled with the fabulously wealthy.
He wondered if Mycroft would be there again this year, so that he’d at least have someone to talk to. Then he hid a chuckle at the thought that small talk with Mycroft was a comforting thing.
With one last glance in the mirror, he turned and left the room. He didn’t want to go, but he was a soldier and used to marching into unpleasant situations—at least this would be bloodless. Or, well, he hoped so. After last year, he couldn’t be sure.
He was surprised to find Sherlock waiting for him in the sitting room, elegantly clothed in a black suit with a green shirt that did interesting things to his changeable eyes. John just lifted an eyebrow, and Sherlock said, “You don’t think I’d let you go alone, do you? After I missed all the excitement last year?”
“You mean right after you swore fundraisers were hell on earth and nothing short of total catastrophe could force you to attend?”
“Exactly.” Sherlock handed John his coat and then swept his own over his suit. “One of the very rare occasions that I’ve actually been wrong. I can’t wait to see what you manage this year.”
John just stared at him for a moment before realizing that this was Sherlock being his backup—not letting him face this alone. Being a friend.
“All right. Let’s go.”
The fundraiser was in the same room as last year, and John could almost swear the crowd was the same, all but for the clothes, no doubt. He was pretty sure he was the only person wearing the same suit.
He and Sherlock were barely in the door when he was practically pounced on by Tobias Leonard and Bill Gregory—heads of LSE and the charity. “Dr. Watson, it’s so good of you to come,” Tobias said.
“Please, call me John, both of you,” he said, shaking their hands. “Do you both know Sherlock Holmes?”
They all greeted each other and murmured polite nothings (even Sherlock), and then Bill said, “I’m so glad you made it this year, John. I had worried that, with …” His eyes slid briefly over to Sherlock “… things being what they are, you might not have been able to come.”
“It’s Ian’s charity,” said John calmly, ignoring the inference that he couldn’t afford it, “That he was good enough to start in my name. I wouldn’t miss it.”
Sherlock gave him a sideways look, but said nothing as he looked around the room. John hid a smile in his champagne glass as he recognized Sherlock’s “deducing” face as he examined the other guests. He just hoped he was going to behave himself.
Excusing themselves, he and Sherlock circled the room. John was surprised how many people stopped to speak to him. Apparently he’d made more of an impression last year than he’d realized—though he supposed his dramatic life-saving act had helped. He wondered if James was here this year.
“I saw him over by the entrance a few minutes ago,” Sherlock said, and John just smiled at Sherlock’s never-ending ability to read his mind.
“I hope he keeps his temper this time.”
“But people seem to have enjoyed your performance last year—maybe they’d like an encore.”
“I’m not goading my uncle into another heart attack for your entertainment, Sherlock,” John told him. “Besides, people get bored if you repeat the same act.”
“We’ll need to find you some other medical emergency then.” John eyed him sharply but relaxed when he saw Sherlock’s lips twitching at the corner.
“Let’s just get through the night as quietly as we can,” he said, but then groaned as he saw Sherlock’s face freeze as Mycroft approached.
“Sherlock, John, it’s good to see you both,” he said.
“Come for the cake, Mycroft?”
“Sherlock,” John said, and was relieved when his flatmate subsided. “How are you doing tonight, Mycroft?”
A small smile. “Fine, thank you, John. I was just talking with Mr. Gregory, who was telling me they got an anonymous donation for £100,000 this morning, just in time for the fund-raiser. Wasn’t that generous of someone?”
John’s could feel his eyes twinkling as he responded. “It certainly is. Some people obviously just have more money than they know what to do with.” Letting Mycroft ‘play’ with his (secret) money had worked out wonderfully for both of them.
Sherlock just looked between the two of them in disgust. “Sickening. Really. This is not why I came here tonight.”
Mycroft just gazed at his brother. “Which begs the question—why are you here, brother? Usually you can’t even be paid to come to these kinds of functions. I know; I’ve tried. You can’t tell me it’s John’s influence, since you didn’t bother to come with him last year.”
“I think he’s hoping for a repeat of last year’s emergency,” said John, teasing.
“No, it’s just that you get into too much trouble when I let you out of my sight,” Sherlock told him. “I’d hate for you to embarrass Ian’s memory again this year.”
“Not true,” said John. “He would have enjoyed seeing me in action. It was quite the crowd pleaser, remember, and I get the feeling he would have enjoyed seeing his brother taken down a notch—though he would have drawn the line at wanting him taken to the hospital.”
“Let’s hope he feels the same way, because James is on his way over.” John turned to see where Sherlock was looking, and sure enough, Uncle James was on his way across the floor. He gave him a cordial nod as he approached, wife in tow. “Good evening, Uncle James, Aunt Samantha. It’s good to see you both again.”
After making sure everyone had been introduced, they exchanged pleasantries about the room, the people, the charity, and John was fighting back yawns by the end of it. He was also watching for signs of boredom in Sherlock—because, even without firearms in the room, that was always dangerous.
Still, Sherlock had learned manners somewhere in his past (even if he usually preferred not to use them), and he did manage to refrain from being outright rude. John had to hide a smile at the disbelief on Mycroft’s face. He had obviously never hoped to see such restraint in his little brother.
Everything, really, was going smoothly until a Mrs. Barrington intruded and gave John condolences (condolences!) on his financial loss. She went on to say, “Naturally, I’m delighted you were able to come up with the necessary donation for tonight’s gala. It wouldn’t have been the same without you. Oh, unless Bill gave you a free seat for the evening?”
John forced a smile. He’d been getting snarky comments all evening, but this was the first time someone had come right out and asked. “No, I assure you, I paid my full donation for the evening. I wouldn’t have missed it.”
She blinked, her mascara-laden lashes waving heavily in front of her eyes. He wondered if that much makeup made them difficult for her eyelids. That couldn’t be healthy, he thought, as he saw them tilt in Sherlock’s direction. “Oh, yes, of course. It’s so good that you’re here.”
John would have let it go, there. She had only said what everyone was thinking, after all—that Sherlock had stepped up with the fee because it was his fault John was poor again. That supposition alone was enough to make John want to laugh long and hard. Sherlock could be generous (i.e., careless) with his belongings, if only because that meant he could borrow (i.e., take) John’s without any reciprocating complaints. He had been more than generous over the years with his bank card—anything to avoid having to go shopping himself.
Sherlock had been grateful, yes, that John had willingly paid the ransom for him, but he knew that half the money had actually been counterfeit provided by Mycroft, and been recovered besides. Even if the scenario they showed the public had been real, Sherlock’s appreciation would have been genuine. But the idea that a one-time act of John’s would spawn months, years of selfless gratitude from Sherlock Holmes was ridiculous, and to spend thousands of pounds just to come and mingle with insufferably boring rich people the likes of whom he’d been avoiding since he was fourteen years old?
It was all John could do to keep from laughing.
The incipient chuckle, though, withered and died as soon as Sherlock started to open his mouth. Oh Christ, thought John, he’s going to say something unforgiveable. Mycroft’s going to finally disown him and Uncle James is going to gloat like there’s no tomorrow.
He didn’t know what showed on his face, but he could feel his jaw opening as Mycroft stepped forward. “You’re entirely correct. It would be a loss to all of us if Captain Doctor Watson had been unable to attend, but as luck would have it, he has managed to find the funds for not only himself to attend tonight, but my brother as well. Not that this surprises me, of course, because Dr. Watson is nothing if not self-sacrificing when duty calls, as are all the men and women we’re here for tonight.” His eyes raked over her, taking in her hair, her clothes, her jewels. “Not that I would expect you to understand the concept of sacrifice. You’ve spent your life being idly wealthy and would not be here tonight at all were it not for your hopes in catching the eye of Sir Reginald—who, I might add, is truly interested in veteran’s affairs and would see through your superficial attempt at caring in a moment. I suspect that, outside this room, you’ve never met a wounded veteran in your life, nor have you given them a moment’s thought.
“Really, I’m quite sure that Bill is delighted to have your money this evening, since it’s likely to be the last he sees of you—which will be no small loss, for it’s quite clear your checkbook isn’t as plump as you’d like. Either that or you’ve been robbed recently since your jewels are all fakes. If so, I can certainly recommend my brother’s services in apprehending the thief. His manners are normally atrocious, but he is quite skilled at his profession.”
John could only stare. He had never seen Mycroft … well … lose it before. There had been dozens of times when he couldn’t stand being in the same room with him, but he had never seen his manners actually collapse before. He had never seen him act like … Sherlock.
He managed to tear his eyes away to look at his flatmate and was pleased to see Sherlock looking as stunned as he was … though with a dawning delight in his face that didn’t bode well for Mrs. Barrington unless she beat a very hasty retreat.
But he gave Sherlock too little credit. At this moment, he could care less about the obnoxious woman who had started this. He looked wholly entranced at seeing his brother … Mycroft Holmes, the unofficial British Government … give in to his worst impulses and deliver a well-deserved dressing down on a woman who was frankly appalling. Mycroft, who never did anything that wasn’t thought out and planned and politically correct … except when it came to his brother.
And, apparently, his brother’s best friend.
John just stared as Sherlock walked over to his brother and, without saying a word, clapped him on the shoulder and walked him over to the buffet table with a huge, wondering smile on his face.
It was perhaps the first time John had seen that Sherlock truly did love his brother.
Well, he decided, even if nobody spoke to him for the rest of the night, it was worth it.
I think this pretty much brings this to a close now. I hope you've all enjoyed this series as much as I have!